This special issue of Itinerario focuses on seventeenth- through nineteenth-century Danish and Swedish colonies and trading posts in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Arctic and explores their cultural complexities. The work originates from a series of interdisciplinary workshops on Danish and Swedish colonialism organised in 2014 and 2015 by the network GlobArch, funded by the Swedish Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.
Colonialism and colonial entanglements have been among the great subjects of intellectual debate and political struggle in this and the previous century, a major field of study in the humanities and the social sciences inspired by pivotal intellectual efforts of Erik Williams, Franz Fanon, Edward Said, and many others. Despite this, and despite the palpable colonial history and legacy of the Nordic countries, little interest was directed to the regions' own colonial past, but more to colonialism and postcolonialism as perspectives, decoupled from historic experience. As expressed by Pernille Ipsen and Gunlög Fur, the Nordic countries went postcolonial without going through the process of decolonisation.Footnote 1
The 2009 Itinerario issue devoted to Scandinavian colonialism edited by Niels Brimnes, Pernille Ipsen, and Gunlög Fur was an early critical engagement with the subject informed by postcolonial theories. In the ten years since its publication, studies of Swedish and Danish colonialism have evolved considerably. Museum exhibitions, research projects, academic publications, and newspaper debates have addressed a wide set of colonial imprints, domestic as well as international, directed towards specific colonies and colonial locales. One of these efforts was our anthology Scandinavian Colonialism and the Rise of Modernity (2013), bringing together scholars from several academic disciplines and countries to grapple with issues of colonialism.Footnote 2 The present special issue is a development and expansion of several of the themes discussed in the book and the 2009 Itinerario special issue, but also an expansion of the conceptual and scientific envelope.
The ideas uniting this group of articles are concepts of entanglement, intersection, and interconnectivity. The authors analyse the nature of colonial entanglements and their postcolonial legacies: the dynamic shaping and reshaping of the relationships and attitudes in the Swedish and Danish colonies stemming from the interactions between the multicultural multitude of peoples inhabiting these places and their diverse worldviews, ideologies, goals, and material practices. They employ the concepts of intersections and crossroads to highlight the complicated choices made by the individuals who manoeuvred colonial spaces and to underscore paradoxes and contradictions that developed in colonial contact zones. They also explore the interconnections between Scandinavian and other colonies and examine the economic, intellectual, and personal contacts and exchanges that were formed across the colonial space. Finally, the articles illuminate the rhetoric and workings of ideologies employed in the outposts and fuelled by colonial experiences.
The notions of intersection and ambivalence in colonial contact zones are explored by Ray Kea, who employs a sixteenth-century Ga term gbe inta (crossroads), used to describe the change and uncertainty associated with European presence in the Gold Coast, and to theorise about colonial trading stations, forts, and missions as crossroads at large. He studies how these ambiguous crossroad conditions affected individual lives, drawing on the stories of two Moravian converts in Danish-controlled Africa and the West Indies. The theme of crossroads and coming and going is also explored by Nathalia Brichet, who conceptualises the harbour in Charlotte Amalie as a physical and metaphorical space of simultaneous interconnectivity and disruption. In Kirsten Hastrup's article, the notion of contact zones as a series of distinct historical encounters between locals and newcomers is unpacked while the author revisits colonial Greenland and the road towards self-government. Victor Wilson focuses on the Swedish colony of St. Barthélemy and its capitol Gustavia, a neutral free port that was built upon the experiences and with the capital of international merchants and which functioned as an imperial crossroads connecting the Caribbean, North America, and Europe.
The articles by Gunvor Simonsen, Jorge Simón Izquierdo Díaz, Christina Skott, and Meredith Reifschneider centre on the ideas of race and body and the ways these concepts were entangled with larger colonial ideologies, legislature, and practices. Exploring the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century complexity of colonial governmentality and legal culture in the Danish West Indies, Simonsen analyses the legal conceptions of body and race, paying attention to the issues of power and authority exercised by the governors and planters over black bodies treated as chattel. Izquierdo Díaz explores the practice, iconography, and discourse of domestic slavery and the ideology of race in seventeenth-century Denmark-Norway and reviews the history of the Danish slave trade in Asia. Skott explores racialised concepts of body as they developed in eighteenth-century intellectual writing and the Linnaean categorisation of human species. Reifschneider is concerned with the treatment of physical bodies in a study of health, well-being, and healthcare following the abolition of the slave trade at the plantations in Danish St. Croix.
It is our hope that this special issue will stimulate further discussions on the complexities of colonial entanglements and their enduring legacies in the Nordic countries. Moreover, we do hope that this new issue will provide for a stronger foundation for a discussion on colonialism's impact, expression and diversity in what is often perceived as the peripheries in the past as in the present.