Caspar Jørgensen & Morten Pedersen (eds.), Industrial Heritage in Denmark: Landscapes, Environments and Historical Archaeology (Aarhus: Kultur Styrelsen & Aarhus University Press, 2015)

As stated in the preface of the current work, “Even though, with good reason, Denmark is often perceived as an agricultural country, industry is also a very important sector in the Danish economy, employing as it does a large number of people and having an appreciable influence on the Danish society in general”. This work is a manifestation of this statement, focusing on the history of Danish industry for (mainly) the last 150 years and how this legacy is today reflected in landscapes, urban planning and concrete structures.

In the period 2004-2007 The Danish Agency for Culture (previously the Heritage Agency of Denmark) lead a special program emphasising Denmark’s industrial heritage. This resulted in the selection of 25 localities, or national monuments, which together are, as stated in the preface to the current work, to “provide a complete picture of industrialisation and of Denmark’s transition from an agricultural to an industrial society over the last 150 years”. In addition, the program instigated research on segments of the industrial legacy as well as on physical industrial environments. The aim of the current work, as specified by Anne Mette Rahbæk, General Director of the Danish Agency for Culture, is to present some of the undertakings and key results of this heritage program to an English speaking readership.

The book is divided into eight individual chapters, including an introduction. Following the introduction the first chapter, by Caspar Jørgensen, discusses Industrial Buildings and Landscapes in Denmark 1770-1970. The chapter provides a systematic overview of industrial development from the industrial revolution to the present day, focusing on relations between natural resources, technological development and the industrialisation of landscape.

Following this Caspar Jørgensen summarizes the 25 Fantastic Industries selected through the Danish Agency for Culture’s program for industrial heritage. Each locality is discussed briefly, focusing on historical development, architecture and current use or circumstances, in a descriptive rather than analytical manner. The descriptions are accompanied with maps and several photographs, old and new. A few bullet points, furthermore, provide explanation for why the respective site has been chosen as a national industrial monument.

In his following chapter René Schrøder Christensen discusses the industrialisation of Danish Ports 1840-1970, and how this development is reflected in general layout and architecture. The chapter is based on a project conducted as part of the industrial heritage program of the Danish Agency for Culture, by the Odense City Museum. In a similar project based chapter, Hanne Christensen analyses Danish Sugar Beet Mills 1872-1912, focusing on technology, typology, architecture and cultural development. A third project based chapter, by Morten Pedersen, discusses the case of Cement Plants of a New Era, between 1890-1930, and how these affected the built environment.

In her chapter Industrial Places in New Guise Anna Storm brings in a more critical and heritage oriented perspective reflecting on the idea of “industrial heritage” and notions of value, preservation and reuse/gentrification. For context and comparison she discusses three cases of industrial heritage transformation processes; Koppardalen in Avesta in Sweden, Ironbridge in England and Duisburg in Germany. Based on these cases she reflects on the challenges and conflicts of heritage transformation processes, as related to e.g. material hierarchies (e.g. the value of rust), industrial aesthetics and the involvement of actors, previous workers and present interest groups. An interesting remark regarding material hierarchies and contemporary aesthetics is her query on what will eventually happen to the many “anonymous buildings” typical of much post-war industry? While left unanswered the question opens for critical consideration of the values involved in heritage programs as the one preceding this work.

The book’s concluding chapter, Industrial Heritage in Denmark, by Caspar Jørgensen, brings a historical overview of the heritageisation of industrial legacy in Denmark from as early as the 1600s to the present day. The outline puts the development in Denmark in context with similar development in Europe, revealing that, “the Danish initiatives imitated what was going on in the neighboring countries” (276). Also emphasized, however, is how interest in industrial heritage and initiatives towards its preservation follow the development of national industrialization processes, as mechanization in the mid-19th century and the introduction of electricity and organization of labour around the turn of the 20th century.

The book’s layout and overall appearance is aesthetically appealing. It is laid with informative but also beautiful photographs and other imagery, both old and new. Maps are also abundant, showing the location, layout and distribution of the national monuments in question. It could be argued that some of these, especially the ones accompanying the 25 Fantastic Industries, are slightly unclear and confusing for a readership that is unacquainted with Danish geography. Nevertheless, they serve their purpose well, and this is only a minor fault. All in all, the book is accessible and well readable for a diverse readership.

A more serious fault, however, is the lack of, on the one hand, heritage context, and, on the other hand, archaeological context. Both heritage and archaeology appear in the work’s title, and the former is obviously its main focus. However, and interestingly, very limited attempts are made at viewing the current work and the overarching Industrial Heritage Program of the Danish Agency for Culture in light of European or international industrial heritage programs, which in recent years have been abundant. This is done to some extent, e.g. in Jørgensen’s concluding chapter, but more in a historical and historicising manner than in a way that frames the institutionalisation of Danish heritage, and industrial heritage particularly, within the legacy of European and International heritage institutionalisation and politicalisation more broadly. The reluctance to do this, moreover, remains unexplained and, thus, appears peculiar. It is worth mentioning, however, that Anna Storm’s chapter on heritage transition processes is a welcomed contrast to this, which though not especially preoccupied with institutionalisation, is concerned with heritage as a contested and flammable field where value is neither given nor necessarily historically grounded.

The second fault is the inconsistency between the promise of Historical Archaeology made in the work’s title and the dominantly (or even exclusively) historical perspective revealed in the book. Here, I admit that the work may be made to suffer even more from the fact that the reviewer is an archaeologist, specialized in historical and contemporary archaeology. Nevertheless, the fact that there is (or so it appears) not one archaeological contribution in the book, and that the only mention of archaeology is the painfully superficial chapter on Industrial Archaeology covering just below 3 pages (pp. 20-22), does not really speak strongly in its defence. Heritage is a contested field and archaeologists, of course, have no principal right to discuss it, but are rather one among many groups and disciplines collaborating on the matter. However, I sincerely believe that the work would have benefited much from an archaeological perspective (as hinted in the title), not least because of its very tangible focus. Hence, this is definitely a weakening point, even though the work is, all in all, a good and legible introduction to Danish industrial heritage.