Book Review: Excavating Nations: Archeology, Museums, and the German-Danish Borderlands by Laurence J. Hare.

AuthorBroad, David B.
PositionBook review

Hare, J. Laurence. Excavating Nations: Archeology, Museums, and the German-Danish Borderlands. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015. xvi + 261 pages. Hardcover, $70.00.

This volume examines the relationship between archeology and modern national identities and nationalism, focusing on the Danish-German borderland. The German side of the southern Jutland Peninsula is the state of Schleswig-Holstein and the Danish side is Sonderjylland. The author, historian Laurence Hare, traces that relationship from the early nineteenth century when knowledge of a shared history brought the Danes and Germans together, to the late nineteenth century when border disputes were fueled by emerging nationalism, to the twentieth century when Nordic antiquity and mythology were part of the Nazi agenda, and the post-war period was marked by trans-national scholarly collaboration.

In 2015, the traditional dictionary publisher, Merriam-Webster, selected the suffix "ism" as the Word-of-the-Year, and, arguably a locus of the information age, selected the word "identity." The author of this timely work is mindful of the two-way flow of the forces that shape national identity and nationalism, and that the "rules pertaining to the national culture in which they worked" actively shape the construction of the meaning of the bones, wood, brick and stone that come from digs (p. 9). The case of the German-Danish borderlands exemplifies the intertwining of cultural elements, including the artifacts unearthed by archeology, and the language shaped by national identity and its ideological expression, nationalism.

For the first 120 years or so, the archeology of the borderlands was shaped by the ebb and flow of individual, provincial and national identities. In the long period of archeological practice before the strong bridge across national cultures was built, the forces of nationalism and rational scholarship produced two forms of what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called habitus--the vehicle for social structure to influence social action. One habitus focused on cultural memory that had already long been a part of the creation of national identities. The other...

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