Tag Archives: colonialism

Ole Høiris, Ole Marquard and Gitte Adler Reimer (eds.), Grønlændernes syn på Danmark. Historiske, kulturelle og sproglige perspektiver (Aarhus: Aarhus Universitets foreleg, 2019)

This book is about the experience of the people from Greenland of their relation to Denmark, Europe and the world. Based on an earlier book about Greenlandic identity and the integration of Greenland into the world of globalization and cosmopolitanism, this anthology changes the perspective and investigates how the people in Greenland perceived their participation in the Danish commonwealth and the relation to other European countries. In the European perspective, the Greenlander was constructed the radical other,  the different human being, the natural man and woman who lived a totally other life, the romantic life in close relation to nature that the Danish and European people once lived, but no longer had any relation to.

In the same way, the Greenlander conceived the ideal of Danish identity, of the Nation state as the basis for construction of the National identity of Greenland and they were nearly adopting and internalizing the Danish view of themselves as the natural people of Greenland. In this sense, the people from Greenland adopted the identity of the nation state and they wanted to construct a common identity based on their historical and cultural identity. In this context of formation of personal and national identity, the book is an interesting contribution to the understanding of the construction of identity through the relation to the other, where one mutually adopts they view of the other as basis for personal identity. It can be argued that the identity of the Greenlanders was constructed through their relation to the people in Denmark and that it was in this conflictual interaction of adoption and rejection of the views of the other that they constructed their personal and cultural identity.

The anthology has a historical and cultural perspective. It traces the relation between the Danish people and the Greenlanders since the 17th Century. The first meetings between the Scandinavians and Greenlandic Inuit took place in southwestern Greenland around the year 1300. However, these accounts was written by Europeans and therefore the book argues that there are only sources from later encounters between Europeans, Danish people and the Inuit from Greenland, so this creates difficulties from the perspective of the historical investigation of the experience of the Danish and Europeans from the point of view of the Greenlanders. In fact, this creates a methodological problem for the book since no primary written sources exist from that time where the Greenlandic people describe their encounter with the Danish people and the Europeans.

Accordingly, the book starts with the time from 1721 when the lasting connection was established between Greenland and Denmark. At that time, the priest Hans Egede arrived as the King Frederik IV’s envoy with the aim of making the Greenlanders Christian, just as trading stations on primarily the west coast were established during the period. Thus, the colonial intention of making the people in Greenland Christian was combined with the business and trade in order to get products from the far North. From that time, the book traces different aspects of the cultural encounter between Danish people, Europeans and the people from Greenland.

As the book is an anthology, it combines papers by researchers from Greenland and Denmark who study a number of the sources that give access to the Greenlanders’ somewhat mixed opinion about Danish missionaries, merchants and officials in Greenland. The book also accounts for the experiences and impressions that Greenlanders received when they were travelling abroad to Denmark and Europe.  The books mixes studies of written sources, myths and works of art in the description of the Greenlanders perception of the Danish and European people. It is striking that the Greenlandic people are very loyal to the Danish Queen and that they feel attached to the kingdom of Denmark at the same time as they have very complex and mixed feelings with regard to the Danish people.

Thus, the books contains the following articles. After the introduction by Ole Høiris and Ole Marquardt, the book covers as different topics as the Greenlandic origin of the the Qallunaat (Europeans) (Birgit Sonne); The Danish-Greenland Cultural Meeting from the Middle Ages to Hans Egede (Flemming A.J. Nielsen); Colonialism seen from the side of a former colonizer (Robert Petersen); The greenlandic writer Peter Gundel’s voice (Søren Rud); Guilt, shame and atonement. About an important work of Grenlandic literature (Kirsten Thisted); ‘The Ultra Radical’ – Augo Lynges and his like-minded view the Danish people (Jens Lei Wendel-Hansen);  The Greenlanders and the Danish royal house – power, ceremonies and emotions (Søren Thuesen); Danes and Greenlanders in the colonial trade- commercial everyday situations with contact potential in the period 1774 to 1900 (Ole Marquardt); Inuit’s accounts of appearances in Denmark, Europe and the United States (Ole Høiris); The almost always present Danishness(Bo Wagner Sørensen and Søren Forchhammer); The inviolable ease of existence- a study of differences in worldview among Greenlanders and Danes (Pelle Tejsner); Kikkut Qallunaajuppat? – Who are the Danes? About gaze directions between Denmark and Greenland and the movie Kikkut Qallunaajuppat? (Louise Hollerup); Greenlanders’ globalization through Danish fashion- the Greenlandic diaspora in Denmark (Rosannguaq Rossen); Greenlandic identity and development- Danish threats and opportunities: The language debate under home and autonomy (Ulrik Pram Gad); The participation of Greenlanders in social research in Greenland (Steven Arnfjord).

With all these interesting and scholarly well-argued contributions, this book is an important contribution to the understanding of the complex post-colonial relation between Denmark, Europe and Greenland. With the combined methods of historical analysis, ethnography, literature studies, cultural analysis and contemporary social analysis, the anthology is able to provide a good foundation for the study of creation of identity through the cultural encounter. The idea of colonialism seen from the point of view of the colonized as the view of the other on the otherness of the other is important for understanding the problems of colonialism and overcome post-colonial traumas and problems in times of globalization and cosmopolitanism. The importance of the voices of the local cultural, historical and literary traditions cannot be emphasized enough. In order to deal with identity it is important to understand the role of the gaze of the other for the creation of the identity of the self. The radical other is significant for the creation of the identity of the self. At the same time, it is interesting how the people of Greenland have appropriated the Danish royal house and how this has contributed to the creation of a national identity of Greenland as a part of the commonwealth with Denmark. Nevertheless, this is still some that happens from the point of view of the otherness of the other to the Danish royal house. In our present times of cosmopolitan globalization with the global interest in the arctic and in Greenland this book is an important contribution for understanding the historical, cultural and social roots of our contemporary challenges.

Laura Gustafsson & Terike Haapoja (eds.), A Museum of Nonhumanity (Goleta, CA: Punctum Books, 2019)

Launched in Finland and touring Norway and Italy (and Taiwan), the book hereby reviewed documents a significant artistic project exploring the many facets of dehumanisation and inhumanity, which the participants wish to consign to “history” in lieu of “a new, more inclusive era”, as the introduction spells out for the reader (5).

Emblematically, the introduction is followed by the text of the speech delivered by Cécile Kashetu Kyenge, Italian member of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, at the inauguration of the “Museum of Nonhumanity”—in truth a complex video-installation or multi-media exhibition—at the Festival of Santarcangelo di Romagna on 22nd February 2016. A Modenese black woman of Congolese origin, Kyenge has been the target of much misogynistic and racist rhetoric from Italy’s right-wing parties and their supporters, who have been continuing ipso facto some of the forms of dehumanisation addressed in the “museum” and, a fortiori, in this book.

Other forms are mentioned in the ensuing text, i.e. the speech delivered by the Finnish parliamentarian Silvia Modig, who recalls “child labour”, “the defenceless and the disadvantaged” and sentient or intelligent “animals” themselves as the victims of inhumane behaviours in contemporary societies, where the “tendency to categorize” them into “two camps: ‘us’ and ‘them’” is far from absent, and the reduction or removal of any bond of “empathy” made possible (9). The deeper ground of this process of dehumanisation and inhumanity in contemporary world nations is also touched upon, as the speaker refers to the “economic game” ruling over all lives, whether human or non-human, such that “our rights and opportunities are defined” on the basis of “our value to the economy, much in the same way as livestock are treated as mere numbers” with “a price tag that determines how well they are looked after.” (10)

The volume continues with a series of high-quality photographs showing the installation from a variety of different angles, as well as a detailed catalogue of the printed, artistic and other sources utilised therein (“The Archive of Nonhumanity”, 56-247). This thorough catalogue is sub-divided into twelve conceptual categories that thematise and/or problematise debated forms of non-humanity, i.e. “person” (primarily on the long-lived practice of slavery, i.e. ownership in people, contrasted with the “persona ficta” of the corporation; 72), “potentia” (in nuce, on the contested ontological status of the embryo qua person or non-person), “monster” (essentially on imprisonment and death penalties), “resource” (primarily on the little-remembered murderous sack of colonial Congo by the Belgian Crown), “boundary” (a clever juxtaposition of the management of wolves in Finland and the internment and extermination of the “Reds” in the 1918 Finnish civil war), “purity” (on the transformation of care for the mentally ill in Finland during the early 20th century, from Christian charity to eugenic control and sterilisation), “disgust” (on the colonial history and civil war of Rwanda and the rhetoric of ‘vermin’ and ‘cockroaches’ accompanying the latter), “anima” (on select philosophical sources for the sharp qualitative distinction and separation between humans and animals), “tender” (on the many cruelties of meat production and consumption), “distance” (on the technology and ideology of Nazi extermination camps), “animal” (on the etymology of the word itself), and “display” (on the Belgian Museum of Central Africa).

Two essays integrate and expand upon the previous and largest section of the book: some “condensed speculations” by Giovanna Esposito Yussif and “Empathy is part of our deepest nature” by Salla Tuomivaara. While the former explains how museums can reinforce or challenge existing ideologies, the latter shows how the cruelty of “othering practices” (256) can be countered by the kindness of our natural propensity to empathise with the living. Seemingly apt for an academic event or a scholarly journal, these two essays are very much à propos: seminars, lectures, public readings and other learned activities have been accompanying the “museum of nonhumanity” in its Nordic and Mediterranean (and south-east-Asian) itinerary.

The programme of the related events, a comprehensive list of references, credits and acknowledgments, as well as the standard colophon conclude the volume. Since the exhibition must have been missed by all who failed to attend it, this book is going to be of potential interest to this very large audience. In particular, however, persons keen on reflecting about penology, animal rights and bioethics, Finnish and colonial history, gender and minority studies, Holocaust studies, or the interplay between art and philosophy, can all find something stimulating in this volume, which is freely available worldwide on the internet as an e-book.

Simon Mills, A Commerce of Knowledge: Trade, Religion, and Scholarship between England and the Ottoman Empire, c.1600-1760 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)

“The traveller observing in the light of the day and the scholar ‘blundering’ in the dark corner of a college library” (p. 2) are some of the protagonists of the ‘commerce of knowledge’ interrogated by Simon Mills in this accurate and elegantly written monograph. These Western characters, however, represented just the beginning of the story of the scholarly discover of the ‘Orient’. A Commerce of Knowledge, in fact, is also a story of the role played in this process by Ottoman agents, a key role of Muslim, Oriental Christian, and, to a less extent, Jewish scholars in all its various facets. The result is a very wide-ranging fresco of the intellectual encounter of East and West in the early modern era, very much practical rather than theoretical, in which the author manages to clear the field of an ideological approach to the debate on Orientalism — nearly without even mentioning it.

Through an ample depiction of the intellectual background of early modern Syria, the reader is led, step by step, through the process of building knowledge of the East as a conversation or ‘commerce’ between “figures such as Huntington and […] Marhib ben Jacob, Europeans and Ottomans, West and East” (p. 11). The mapping of this very concrete intellectual exchange that happened between Ottomans and Europeans in the Syrian fieldwork of Aleppo and its subsequent academic elaboration in Oxford is precisely one of the main cores of the book. The author successfully contends with how the study of Oriental languages and cultures — so crucial in the intellectual life of Europe since the beginning of the 17th century — was not only linked to the directives and needs of scholars far away in their universities in England or on the European continent. It was a field in the making, in which the “experts” were the local Ottoman intellectuals, from whom Europeans learned not only to speak and read the different languages of the area but also to understand the ‘access codes’ to local cultures. The choice of manuscripts to collect, of Arab or Jewish authors to discover, was often a choice guided by local agents and not dictated by Western intellectuals, where Mills succeeds in providing historians a new access to the history of Oriental studies. Departing from the now classic Saidian reading of an East, born as a subject of study as an ideological construction of the West, the author supports his innovative approach through a meticulous philological work that shifts the focus of the entire narration.  In fact, instead of focalising on the theoretical passage and flow of ideas between the ‘Orient’ and the West, Mills shows how this concretely took place in the experiences of the English chaplains serving the British factory in Aleppo between 17th and 18th century — ultimately also stressing the existence of a reverse intellectual movement that went from West to East in the form of printed translations of the Bible.

The chaplains are the central junction from which all the narrative and documentary threads of the book unfold. The volume is divided into three sections, which explore in different ways the cultural brokering carried out by the chaplains. The first section identifies the figure of the chaplain in Aleppo, from its origins to the end of the period analysed. The Levant Company’s practices in employing its minster, the characteristics required by the job, and the average duration of the employment, as well as the influence that such a role could have on the chaplain’s subsequent ecclesiastical and academic career, are outlined. The stage on which his role is played, Aleppo, is then described, a place of encounter and commerce with a long history of European merchants at work — originally mainly Venetians. Mills notes that Aleppo is also crucial in intellectual transmission due to the important presence of manuscript sellers and book auctions. In the second section, the history of the building of libraries as a consequence of collecting manuscripts by chaplains and its influence on the advancement of oriental studies in Europe is traced. Through the two differently exemplary experiences of Edward Pococke and Robert Huntington, two different types of approach to the Syrian cultural and intellectual space are in place. In both cases, however, the author convincingly emphasises the importance of the interaction of British chaplains with Oriental Christians and Jews in the process of manuscript collecting. The types of texts collected mainly belong to three categories: liturgical texts of the Eastern churches in Arabic or other local languages (such as Mandaic or Armenian); books from the rabbinic and Hebrew literature; and “Arabic-Islamic literature, with a substantial number of books on history, theology, philosophy, poetry, astrology, medicine, and grammar and lexicography” (p. 96). In this process, it becomes clear that the pre-existing dependence of the chaplains’ interests on European scholars is complemented by the interests of their intermediaries on the ground, the Ottoman scholars. The role, for example, of Marhib ben Jacob and of the Maronite patriarch Istịfān al-Duwayhī thus become the pivot around which the chaplains’ research interests are directed and then “exported” once back to Europe. The third section sees the chaplains engaged in more adventurous activities, such as visiting the ruins of ancient cities like Palmyra or making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, while exploring “English attempts to produce and to distribute Reformed liturgical and polemical texts in Arabic” (p. 4). Here Mills identifies the exchange with Catholic missionaries or the link with the Greek Orthodox church. The encounter with Catholics, who have been present in the area for a very long time, is ambiguous. On the one hand, it is presented as an opportunity for the chaplains to draw on the know-how that the Catholics have acquired over its centuries-long presence in the Middle East. On the other hand, the distribution of Reformed texts is an attempt to contest this primacy, giving support to the Greek Orthodox Church against the Uniate movements supported by the Catholics themselves that led to the schism of the Orthodox Church in Syria in the 18th century.

The closing chapter of the book — while drawing together its various themes — offers a perspective on the relationship between trade and culture, framing it into first the Levantine and then the Asiatic experiences of the British factories in the second half of the 18th century. Mills traces the shift of scholarly interest from the Middle East to Asia as an effect of the change of the centre of gravity of British commercial interests that happened after 1761. In this context, the author argues how — on the micro scale — the knowledge produced by ‘Orientalists’ did not serve the interests of the Levant Company, while the presence of the Company itself furthered the knowledge of the Orient. Similarly — on the macro scale — the opening and strengthening of the Asian space made the East India Company not only a powerful political body but also promoted the birth of new academic curiosities. In this context, the expansion of new knowledge into Asian subjects “exploited fully the new opportunities for communication brought about by expansion of English commerce in Asia” (p. 262). Overall, the book is a fascinating example of how the confluence of commercial, religious, and scholarly interests could utmostly sustain the creation of new knowledge on different cultures.

Kirsten Thisted and Ann-Sofie N. Gremaud (eds.), Denmark and The New North Atlantic: Narratives and Memories in a Former Empire (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2020)

Denmark and The New North Atlantic – Narratives and Memories in a Former Empire presents a critical interdisciplinary study of a region marked by Danish imperialism and today affected by a renewed interest in the Arctic: the North Atlantic (i.e., coastal Norway, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands).

Edited by Kirsten Thisted and Ann-Sofie Gremaud, this two-volume book investigates how geopolitical and climatic changes reshape power dynamics and relationships in the North Atlantic. Throughout the book, historians, ethnographers, culture and communication scholars, literary theorists, and art historians from universities in Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Denmark, and Norway interrogate past narratives, emerging discourses and current relations in the nations of the North Atlantic.

The first section of the book offers a broad overview of the author’s assessment and help contextualise the following analyses. After briefly explaining that the North Atlantic is a porous and situated concept, Thisted and Gremaud highlight the influence of the past over the present and (perceived) future of the region. Indeed, political and emotional relations set during the Danish Empire seem deeply entrenched. While the emergence of the Arctic on the international scene contributes to their renegotiation, they appear to continue affecting current dynamics. Thisted and Gremaud further argue that these past relations and influences, often charged with racism, sexism and discrimination, are often overlooked. With this research, the authors thus hope to expose and reflect on these narratives and to participate in enabling a move forward.

Having set out the book’s objective, the second section synthesises the history of the Danish Empire in the North Atlantic and the development of distinct nations in the region. By replacing the national narratives of Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands in light of their relationship with the Danish Empire, the authors question – or at least nuance – the dominant narratives, allowing us to better comprehend current discourses and dynamics.

Following these rather general sections, the subsequent parts of the book draw on politics, ideology, art, literature, ecology and gender tropes to study the evolving narratives of the North Atlantic region. By recalling former power relations and past constructions, the different sections contextualise and question present developments and discourses in the nations of the North Atlantic, at regional, national, and global levels. Similar research questions are applied to the different nations, highlighting common features in the North Atlantic and interrogating political, social and cultural asymmetries. Section 3 thus analyses geographical perceptions and definitions of the North Atlantic, underlining how these are situated. Section 4 investigates the shaping of collective identities by assessing narratives of purity and authenticity and is directly complemented by Section 5, which questions gendered discourses and practices, by focusing on narratives of impurity or hybridity. Section 6 reflects on representations of the past as definers of an idealised future and Section 7, focused on political considerations and the use of natural resources, plays a concluding role by summarising that past dynamics and hierarchies continue to shape the present.

A few characteristics make this publication especially valuable. First, throughout the book, the authors use historical and local examples, especially artistic productions, to feed their analyses. These numerous inputs of local narratives make the reflections particularly relevant, founded and meaningful. It is very pleasant to read an academic work with such a diverse array of examples. While the different sections of the book tackle various subjects, the systematic use of local narratives connect them and make the book a coherent production.

Secondly, the application of a post-colonial lens to the narratives of the North Atlantic countries, and not only of Greenland, is a sensible and pertinent choice that also connects the different sections. As a matter of fact, Icelandic narratives are rarely analysed in light of the country’s colonial history, yet the authors here show how necessary it is to do so. By highlighting the countries’ shared colonial past and its influence on the post-colonial present; and by applying the same interrogations to Greenlandic, Icelandic, and Faroese narratives, the authors recognise and overcome the asymmetric hierarchies set by Danish imperialism.

Thirdly, the authors often take the time to clarify the academic concepts they use, even though most of them have been created and defined by other scholars. This explanatory process allows the reader to truly understand the book’s theoretical framework and the authors’ vision behind their analyses. As such, it adds to the meaningfulness of the book and underlines the authors’ desire to produce intelligible research.

On the other hand, the discussion around coastal Norway could have gained in being better incorporated to overall reflection. While Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands are almost always integrated into the analyses, coastal Norway only appears sporadically. Although it is explained that the North Atlantic has porous borders, it would have been interesting to consider narratives from coastal Norway more often, especially as many themes would have been applicable and relevant to that region.

Furthermore, Section 3 and its effort to analyse past and present geographical perceptions of the North Atlantic is underwhelming. Indeed, part of the development seems too conceptualised, thereby missing to represent felt geographies. While most of the book’s analysis is robust and backed by well-grounded arguments and examples, Section 3’s focus on the “Blues” – an emerging field of research which considers the ocean as an integral part of modern geography – as a means of analysing the North Atlantic’s relationship with its environment feels blurry and unfinished. Nevertheless, the themes approached in this section were interesting, and it will be important to follow up on the emergence of the “Blues” as an academic field in the coming years.

In sum, this book covers a very wide spectrum of notions and effectively manages to give the reader a general understanding of the North Atlantic’s current dynamics, hierarchies and discourses internally, regionally and globally. By constantly using local and concrete examples, the authors generally avoid developing a theoretical analysis with little meaning outside of the academic sphere. By adopting an interdisciplinary perspective, the authors pinpoint the pervasiveness of the imperialist project in the North Atlantic nations. Finally, by highlighting the lasting effects of the asymmetrical power relations set out by the Danish Empire in the region, the authors successfully bring attention to deeply entrenched issues while avoiding any deterministic projections and recognising the agency of its inhabitants.