Cultural heritage, the Swedish folklife sphere, and the others (1).

Author:Klein, Barbro

We are in the midst of a global "cult of heritage," asserts English geographer, historian and professor of heritage studies, David Lowenthal (1998, 1-30). Indeed, cultural heritage (or simply heritage) and its many equivalents or near equivalents, such as kulturarv (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian), Erbgut (German), patrimoine and heritage culturel (French), menningararfur (Icelandic), turath (Arabic), and the recent Chinese coinage wenhua yichan, are becoming increasingly dominant in cultural politics the world over. This happens at the same time as people and ideas circulate at an unprecedented pace, as many countries are receiving more refugees and migrants than ever before, and as more and more minorities and indigenous peoples are vying for self-determination. In what way is the ascendancy of cultural heritage as term and phenomenon linked to the ascendancy of intense multicultural co-existence? How is the heritage of various ethnic Others to be understood in relationship to that which is regarded as Our Own? These questions are unresolved and controversial in many countries, not least in the one which is at the center of this paper: Sweden. As recently as the 1970s, Swedes regarded themselves as exceedingly homogeneous with respect to culture, religion, and language. However, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain such a self-image: during the past twenty or thirty years Sweden has received refugees and immigrants from all over the globe to such an extent that now almost one fourth of the 9 million inhabitants were born outside the country or are children of recent arrivals from afar.

On the next few pages I will discuss the rise of the Swedish word for cultural heritage, kulturarv, in a fairly long historical perspective. I will concentrate on an area of public culture that might be called the "sphere of the vernacular" or the "folklife sphere" (Klein 2000a). Included in this sphere are a variety of "folk" museums and "folk" disciplines, such as folklore, folklife studies, and ethnology, and such activities and phenomena as the homecraft and folk music movements. I will pay particular attention to the relationship between kulturarv and a few other terms and ideas, notably "folk," compounds with "folk," and "cultural difference." For the sake of concentration, the discussion will be linked to the Nordic Museum in Stockholm and to the scholarly disciplines that evolved out of the concerns of this museum.

In some ways, this paper can be read as an historical review of a cluster of concepts in relationship to ideological, political, and social changes. To some readers the discussion might seem to be mostly a disciplinary history touching on well-known as well as less well-known ideas. Yet, in a broad sense, this text is an attempt to enter the field of conceptual history and to address the question of how a term emerges and how this emergence affects other ideas, phenomena, and concepts (Koselleck 2002). In a still broader sense, this article is concerned with cultural politics. I wish to point to some of the forms of political activism and social planning in which the Swedish folklife sphere has been involved ever since its appearance and to point to some of the forms at issue during the current ascendancy of cultural heritage.

A Grammar of Forms to Glorify the Fatherland (2)

As early as the 1600s, at the height of its imperialist ambitions, Sweden instituted legislation aimed to protect its monuments, churches, and other remains and traditions. The ultimate goal was to glorify the royalty and the nation-state and, in 1666, the Antikvitetskollegium ("Board of Antiquities") received the task to search all around the kingdom to find (upspana) and preserve not only material antiquities but also orally performed legends and ballads. As time went on, these ambitions were modified and, during the 1700s, the official interest turned to searching out and describing that which was economically useful for the country; in particular, Linnaeus' explorations and travelogues contributed to a new sense of discovery of the land.

The second half of the 1800s constituted yet another era with a heightened interest in locating and protecting the cultural achievements of the nation. But now the conditions were vastly different from what they had been before. In Sweden as well as elsewhere, this was a period of immense societal transformations: agricultural restructuring, population increase, urbanization, industrialization, crop failures, emigration, workers' movements, temperance movements, struggles to achieve universal suffrage, and new communication technologies such as the railroad and the telegraph. This was also a time when new scholarly disciplines were created; some of them, such as art history, archeology, natural history, and ethnography, evolved in part because of the needs of the museums. Both the museums and the disciplines were established to serve the nation-states and their modernization. But the nation-states were no islands. Rather, museums and other scholarly and scientific establishments were developed in a spirit of international cooperation and competition. To "have" culture "was one of the main duties of a modern state" (Beckman 1998, 17) and the cultural achievements of nations were repeatedly compared in international congresses and world's fairs.

Artur Hazelius (1833-1901) was one of several learned and enthusiastic museum founders and system builders. As a young man he wrote a doctoral dissertation on Old Norse literature and, in 1873, he founded the Scandinavian-Ethnographic Collection, which in 1880 was renamed the Nordic Museum (Nordiska museet). At the beginning, it was by no means clear what kinds of materials were to be emphasized: skulls and craniums were among the possibilities. Eventually, it was decided that the Nordic Museum was to concentrate on the cultural history (kulturhistoria) of Sweden. (3) All social classes, groups, and geographical regions were to be represented: the nobility, the urban bourgeoisie, the trades-people, the exotic Saami, and the peasantry (the growing numbers of urban/ industrial workers were not considered as possibilities). Thus, in a broad sense, Hazelius was involved in a multicultural experiment. Yet, in actuality, he gave priority to varieties of peasant (allmoge) or rural culture. Initially, this priority met with resistance from official quarters, but Hazelius prevailed and, in 1891, when the open-air museum, Skansen, welcomed its first visitors, the emphasis on the peasantry was evident. (4) Placed on a hilly area of Stockholm, not far from the spot where a new and grand Nordic Museum building was to be built, Skansen was organized as a miniature of Sweden containing animals, houses, people, and industry typical of most of the provinces from north to south. (5)

The emphasis on peasant culture was, of course, entirely in keeping with Romantic Nationalism and with Hazelius' own fascination with peasant customs and, in particular, with peasant costumes. This emphasis became even more pronounced during the first years of the 1900s through the influence of one of the few academically trained employees at the museum, Nils-Edward Hammarstedt (Hammarlund-Larsson 2004, 33). To him, to Hazelius, and to others, a nation was "naturally grown" and the peasants were closer to its spirit, soul, and soil than other social classes. Hazelius thought that if he could open the eyes of all Swedes--particularly the urban middle classes--to the beautiful sides of peasant life, their feelings for the fatherland would be awakened and maintained. To teach all Swedes to "know themselves" was the great task of the museum, and Hazelius pronounced the spiritual and material traditions of the peasantry as the base upon which the future cultural repertoires and moral standards of the nation were to rest. To that end, he and his collaborators engaged in a massive harvesting of peasant material culture and traditions.

But peasant creations could not be exhibited in an urban public sphere in their pristine condition. They had to be made pleasing, aesthetically and morally, to suit refined tastes and discriminating audiences. The shaping of a beautified repertoire of peasant traditions was part of a reform project to educate all citizens, to make them better, more ready to become moderns (Eriksen 1993). What took place was simultaneously an act of preservation and modernization. Historians, artists, crafts enthusiasts, and others participated in the massive efforts to study, preserve, exhibit, celebrate, present, beautify, promote, or sell the most aesthetically pleasing of the costumes, tools, furniture, and other arts of the country folk.

In the context of this article, two aspects of the activities are of particular interest. One is the terms that were used. For example, while Hazelius and his collaborators frequently emphasized that the new museum was concerned with kulturhistoria (cultural history), I have found no instances in which they used kulturarv. The word did exist, however. It is said that Victor Rydberg, a celebrated novelist who also called himself a "cultural historian," introduced it into Swedish in 1883 (SAOB 1939-; Svensson 2003). Hazelius often spoke about arvet (the inheritance) from our fathers but not about kulturarv. Nor did he use folk or compounds with folk (such as folkvisa or folksaga) nearly as frequently as scholars tend to assume. (6) He preferred such words as allmoge (peasantry) or bonder (farmers). Above all, he and his colleagues did not debate or theorize the folk or folk compounds. Indeed, "folklife research" had not yet been invented. Nevertheless, one might speak about the last few decades of the 19th century as a period when an inchoate folklife sphere was being shaped, i.e. a sphere in which facets of the life of peasant farmers were drawn into a bourgeois public sphere (Klein 2000a).

Another aspect of particular interest here...

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