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  • Introduction:Nordic Colonialisms and Scandinavian Studies
  • Johan Höglund and Linda Andersson Burnett1

While a number of European area studies have long discussed colonial pasts and postcolonial presents, post-World War II historical research on the European North has not until recently begun to consider the ways in which this region contributed to, benefitted from, and now inhabit colonial histories. As observed by Keskinen et al. (2009), this is arguably because the nations of the region have often been imagined, internally and externally, as champions of global equality and minority rights. In the light of this self-image, the Nordic nations' pursuit of colonial dominion, and their contribution to the colonial efforts of other nations, were routinely written out of the national histories of the Nordic countries, or, as described by Fur and Ipsen (Fur 2009) imagined as a marginal and altruistic project. Indeed, as Fur has noted elsewhere, Nordic history and colonialism were, for a long period of time, "unthinkable" (2013, 17) to the historian.2 [End Page 1]

Scholars tied to the field of Scandinavian Studies appear to have been particularly reluctant to engage with the notion of Nordic colonialisms. Despite the emergence in the 1980s and 1990s of a scholarship that recognizes the colonial endeavors that the Nordic nations participated in, followed by a series of publications after the new millennium that offered a wide, interdisciplinary examination of Scandinavian colonial history and culture (that we will return to below), Scandinavian Studies as a field has only rarely touched upon the subject. At the 2017 meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study, only one of the seventy-seven panels were devoted to Nordic colonialism. Even when venturing far into Sámi history and culture, as Scandinavian Studies does in special issues in vol. 75, no. 2, 2003, and in vol. 83, no. 4, 2011, the fact that Sámi land3 was colonized by Denmark-Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia over a long period of time, and that the region remains, to all effects and purposes, a colony of these nation-states, received marginal attention.4

This special issue is an attempt to shed light on the ways in which Nordic and Scandinavian histories and cultures are, in fact, colonial and postcolonial histories and cultures. By applying postcolonial theory and indigenous methodologies, we hope to open up the field of Scandinavian Studies to new questions and new historical and cultural models that better describe the history of the Nordic region after the Enlightenment. New and crucial questions arise when colonialism is added to the current reading of Nordic history and culture. How were Nordic colonialisms similar to the colonialisms of other European nations, and how were they different? How did colonial [End Page 2] practices and discourses circulate within Europe and/or within the Nordic region? What kind of colonial practices and power relations remain in places such as Greenland and Sápmi? What new theoretical and methodological engagements have been introduced by the scholarship and activism of Indigenous people? How does present-day literature, art, and film speak about Nordic colonial histories? How can an awareness of Nordic colonial histories and discourses help us to understand the rise of racism and populism following in the wake of massive refugee and labor migration into Scandinavia? This special issue will not be able to answer all these questions, but it provides a contextual, theoretical, and methodological framework from which they can be approached.

Scholarship on Nordic Colonialisms

In this issue, we make use of the concept of Nordic rather than Scandinavian. The former term is arguably more inclusive than the latter and makes it easier for us to consider territories in the North Atlantic such as Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and to include Finland, a nation-state at times excluded from Scandinavian Studies but with an important history both as a former colony of Sweden and of Russia, and as a colonizer of the region that is today referred to as Sápmi. Furthermore, this issue recognizes the presence of many different forms of colonialism practiced within, and emanating from, the Nordic region. The colonization of the West Indies by Denmark...


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