Northern Europe and the Atlantic World

Gunvor Simonsen

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
Northern Europe and the Atlantic World

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
  • African History
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The engagement of northern European states and peoples in the Atlantic world has received little and uneven attention. There are several reasons for this. First, northern European states did not experience the postwar migration from their former colonies that the larger Atlantic empires did. Consequently, the demand of descendants of colonial subjects to reconcile this past with their present was not a pressing political issue in northern Europe. Second, scholarly institutions in northern Europe have not provided institutional support for the development of a coherent tradition of Atlantic history. Instead, research has come in waves, depending on the interest of individual historians. This irregular attention may in turn be connected to political developments in the 19th century. Denmark, for instance, lost much of its European territory during this period. The national self-understanding that resulted from this history of territorial shrinkage was one of a small, peaceful, and homogenous state, inconsistent with the involvement of the Danish state and Danes in the slave trade and slavery. In different ways but with a similar result, Sweden, Finland, and Norway have developed national narratives in which their engagement in the Atlantic world has been insignificant. A third reason for this relatively minor interest in the Atlantic world has to do with northern Europe’s early abandonment of Atlantic possessions, which inevitably influences the way historians of former colonies and settlements approach this element of the past. The historical record is often written in marginal Scandinavian languages that are linguistically obsolete in the areas formerly colonized. More important, the Atlantic colonies of northern Europe were, with the exception of the Danish West Indies, incorporated into larger European empires. This has meant that the history of the small colonies of northern Europe often appears unimportant by comparison to the larger, later imperial histories of other parts of the Atlantic world. In general, the historical and scholarly developments outlined here explain why the historiography of northern Europe and the Atlantic world cannot be characterized as an integrated field in which different interpretations coexist and compete. Rather, historical studies have relied on international trends in colonial history and, more recently, in Atlantic history for interpretative models and frameworks.

Article.  8330 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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