(HI)STORIES OF BENEVOLENCE: DENMARK AND ITS COLONIES IN HISTORIOGRAPHY AND FICTION
Postcolonial Entanglements Unit Seminar with Ebbe Volquardsen, Associate Professor of Cultural History Ilisimatusarfik – University of Greenland.
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A historiography that idealizes colonial rule as a humanitarian act with reference to its supposedly inherent civilizing mission is far from a Danish peculiarity. From the 19th century onward, it served as an ideological legitimization strategy for numerous colonial powers. Nevertheless, research has rightly established the concept of Nordic exceptionalism. It can be used to describe discursive strategies by means of which Denmark and its neighbors are attested an ethically and morally superior position, which makes the comparison of their colonial interventions with those of others appear disproportionate. »With the best of intentions« and »to Denmark’s honor« are recurring phrases when speaking of the supposed benignity of Danish colonial performance in Greenland; regarding the Caribbean Virgin Islands, abolitionist ideals and the morality of individuals often stand at the center of national historical narratives to this day.
The project examines the history of the emergence and dissemination of the narrative of benevolent Danish colonialism in Greenland and the Global South. Subject of the investigation are popular texts: from colonial novels to popular history books and feature films. When did the narrative emerge, how is it reproduced intertextually, at what times does it seem to gain significance, and what does this all say about Denmark's national self-image? The study thus aims to help make visible and tame the elephant in the room that still too often seems to stand in the way of Denmark's search for an appropriate approach to its colonial heritage and for a respectful future relationship with Greenland.