Claiming Valhalla: Archaeology, National Identity, and the German-Danish Borderland, 1830-1950 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Hare, J. Laurence
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation traces the emergence of an academic community of archaeologists in the contested German-Danish borderland of Schleswig-Holstein from 1830 to 1950 in order to explore the uses of the distant past for creating modern national identities. The study considers the role of professional scholars in claiming and contesting shared heritages for diverging nationalist ends and explains how scholars handled the paradox of participating in nation-building projects while maintaining their commitments as members of a transnational scholarly community. The study begins in the 1830s with the founding of the Kiel Museum of Antiquities, which was the product of collaboration between German and Danish antiquarians. It then follows the work of antiquarian scholars in the period of the German-Danish Wars from 1848 to 1864, when prehistory became a focal point of claims to territory and led antiquarians to contest the ownership of artifacts such as the Nydam Boat and the Flensburg Collection. In the wake of the wars, the work of scholars such as Johanna Mestorf and Sophus Müller led to a renewal of cross-border collaboration, which resulted in the discovery of the lost Viking trading town of Haithabu and aided the development of a scientific model for the practice of archaeology. The success of research in both countries fostered the production of narratives of prehistory based on scientific methods but tied to national histories. Archaeologists such as Gustaf Kossinna envisioned the borderland as the site of the earliest Germanic peoples and the starting point of Germanic prehistory. The result was a "Nordic paradigm" for prehistoric development with strong racial and imperialist overtones that coexisted with traditional scientific approaches. The dissertation traces the transformation of such thinking in Schleswig-Holstein during the early twentieth century and considers its political implications in the Nazi Era, when the transnational context played a key role in the engagement of borderland scholars with the Third Reich. The study concludes with an appraisal of the fate of nationalist orientations for German and Danish archaeology and the impact of borderland archaeologists on their discipline and their respective national communities.
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  • Jarausch, Konrad Hugo
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