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Reviewed by:
  • The Cambridge History of Scandinaviaed. by E. I. Kouri and Jens E. Olesen
  • Peter Thaler
E. I. Kouri and Jens E. Olesen, eds. The Cambridge History of Scandinavia. Vol. 2: 1520– 1870. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. xxiv + 1152.

The current volume represents the second installment of a projected three-part history of Scandinavia, whose first part, covering the European North from prehistory to 1520, was published in 2003. This new installment traces the subsequent fate of the Scandinavian countries up to the final breakthrough of modern mass societies around 1870. The thirty-eight contributors are highly qualified experts in their fields, virtually all Scandinavian, and frequently already retired from their academic positions. Their impressive range of expertise, ranging from political and social to economic, military, cultural, religious, and population history, is reflected in the breadth of their individual contributions.

The more than 1,000 pages of core text are divided into nine sections. Part 1 examines the immense spiritual, social, and political impact of the [End Page 137]Protestant Reformation on Scandinavian societies. This substantial section is followed by a briefer segment on demographic developments and their consequences for land use and economic advancement. The single longest segment of the book, accounting for over 400 pages, analyzes the transformation of Denmark and Sweden into early modern power states. This transformation included both an international component, marked especially by the temporary rise of Sweden to the preeminent political force of the Baltic, and a domestic component, expressed by increased political centralization as well as monarchic supremacy.

The subsequent section, titled "Society in the Eighteenth Century," forms another core component of the volume. It examines changes in demography, but also in material and spiritual living conditions. Yet art, architecture, and literature are not forgotten, and no fewer than two chapters are dedicated to the musical culture of Scandinavia. A shorter section on the period's constitutional and foreign policy developments already leads up to the nineteenth century, when the repercussions of the Napoleonic wars redrew the borders of Scandinavia and finally reduced its kingdoms to minor players on the European stage.

The final three sections preceding the editors' conclusion focus on the transformation to modern mass societies in the nineteenth century. The new economic order is examined in chapters on the massive growth in population, the modernization of agriculture, and the advent of industrial modes of production. The new social order is analyzed through the changing relationship of town and countryside and through popular reaction to socioeconomic upheaval, including both cultural adaptations and mass emigration. A chapter on the new political order traces the emergence of the modern nation-state, as well as the complicated interplay of nationalism and Scandinavianism in the shaping of collective identities. Laudably, the editors round off the volume with a summary, somewhat ambitiously termed "Conclusion," which is very pertinent but not always provided in a multi-author survey.

Volume 2 of The Cambridge History of Scandinaviarepresents a massive scholarly undertaking. Its topical breadth is impressive. Its seasoned authors are well-chosen. It would be hard to find such comprehensive information on early modern Scandinavia condensed into one English-language book anywhere else. Few subfields of history are ignored; it may be particularly valuable that demographic conditions hold a prominent place in the analysis. With 1,150 pages divided thematically as well as chronologically, the volume will be read as a handbook more often than as a coherent whole. This will also diminish the impact of occasional repetitions in the text.

Some authors are less sure-footed on the history and geography of their Scandinavian neighbor countries, which can express itself in such [End Page 138]statements as Schleswig having become Germanized below the river Eider, although that river historically formed the southern border of the duchy (p. 155). One may also encounter curious comparisons such as that Scandinavians accounted for 10 percent of all European immigrants to the United States between 1866 and 1870, although they made up only 3 percent of the world's population (p. 811). Slightly more distracting are linguistic limitations. The publisher did not fully live up to its obligation to revise the prose of non...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2163-8195
Print ISSN
0036-5637
Pages
pp. 137-139
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-20
Open Access
No
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