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  • Scandinavia in the Age of Revolution: Nordic Political Cultures, 1740–1820 ed. by Pasi Ihalainen et al.
  • Katherine Aaslestad
Scandinavia in the Age of Revolution: Nordic Political Cultures, 1740–1820. Edited by Pasi Ihalainen, Michael Bregnsbo, Karin Sennefelt and Patrik Winton (Surrey: Ashgate, 2011. xvii plus 381 pp., £85.00).

For too long Scandinavian history has been presented as isolated from or on the periphery of mainstream European studies; this book helps correct this flawed [End Page 276] approach. Based on two research workshops, this rich volume provides exciting comparative studies of Scandinavian states as well as broadly contextualizing them with contemporaneous events on the Continent and British Isles. Not surprising for research on the Revolutionary era, contributors in this volume focus on both change and continuity in Scandinavian political culture. The majority of the chapters highlight the flexibility within Scandinavian political culture and its ability to adapt to the many revolutionary changes that emerged with the Enlightenment and growing public sphere, long distance trade, political upheaval, and numerous wars. Despite the significant differences between these states, collectively they demonstrated a readiness to reform and integrate public opinion, and expand popular participation and accessibility to the state.

Although the volume features the two rival states of Sweden and the conglomerate Kingdom of Denmark, several chapters address Norway and a few feature Finland and Iceland. Organized thematically, the volume comprises four sections: change and continuity within monarchies, the transformation of political discourse, increased commercial and political convergence, and the shifting boundaries in political population highlighting the lower orders and women. Each section begins with a clear introductory essay by the editors who were mindful to provide crisp overviews of historical events and figures for readers not familiar with Scandinavian history.

Swedish and Danish monarchies and their responses to the challenges of the Enlightenment, French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars are the key themes for the first quarter of the volume. The section address change and continuity, and in particular the practice and representation of monarchical power. Jonas Nordic and Henrika Tandefelt contribute chapters on the monarchy in Sweden; Nordin points out that the monarchy remained significant during the Swedish Age of Liberty (1719–1772) when the Diet was dominated by nobility; indeed he concludes that the monarchy possessed a popular legitimacy far beyond any other form of government. Tandefelt outlines how Gustavus III consciously shaped the image of the monarchy featuring legitimacy, security, the arts, and charm after 1772. Michael Bregnsbo explores the meaning and unwritten practice of absolutism in Denmark in an intriguing case study of the short-lived reform-oriented regime of the Holstein doctor Johan Friedrich Streunsee. In addition to his scandalous affair with Queen Matilda, Streuensee failed to build networks and popular support for reforms that were rational and progressive, and omitted the roles that Danish subjects expected to perform with the monarchy. Ulrik Langen and Sune Christian Pedersen further develop the key role of monarchical practice in a chapter on nepotism and corruption in court culture and on the political challenges to the Danish monarchy reflected in the strategies of postal censorship.

The second section of the volume explores the transformation of political debate and the rise of oppositional discourse at the pulpit, representative assemblies, and in the press. Many of the chapters in this section examine the transformation in political language; Michael Bregnsbo and Pasi Ihalainen underscore the importance of the Lutheran clergy in defining political community in Scandinavia and trace how the clergy reconciled themselves to rationalism and the Enlightenment. If Lutheran language adapted the notion of the king as “father,” Karin Hassan Jansson’s chapter points out how the how family metaphors were used in Swedish political language and complements the aforementioned chapter with a nuanced analysis of paternal power at home and in the [End Page 277] state. Charlotta Wolff, Pasi Ihalainen and Anders Sundin analyze the evolving notion of liberty among the Swedish nobility and the Swedish Diet, whereas Jeppe Nevers traces a transformation within Danish absolutism toward an opinion-guided monarchy during the Enlightenment. Finally, Marie-Christine Skuncke and Henrik Horstbøll provide rich chapters on the importance of the press, censorship and public sphere in Sweden and Norway...


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