On the settler memories of cores and diasporas: Adam Hjorthén, Border-Crossing Commemorations: Entangled Histories of Swedish Settling in America, PhD Dissertation, Stockholm University, 2015

21Oct15

Abstract: Different groups from both sides of the Atlantic have since the 1930s come together to commemorate histories of Swedish settling in America. They have celebrated the founding of the New Sweden colony in the Delaware Valley (1638–1655), and the mid-nineteenth-century arrival of Swedish pioneers in the Mississippi Valley. Border-Crossing Commemorations investigates this continuing practice in studies of the 1938 New Sweden Tercentenary and the 1948 Swedish Pioneer Centennial. It analyzes how histories of colonization, pioneering, and migration have been made functional and meaningful in these border-crossing commemorations.

The purpose of this dissertation is to analyze the ways in which actors entangled historical representations in the 1938 New Sweden Tercentenary and the 1948 Swedish Pioneer Centennial. On a more general level, the study explores the question of what happens when different people, with different agendas, in different parts of the world, commemorate the same history, at the same time, in the same places. It proceeds from a critique of the national paradigm in commemoration research, and thus contributes to the emerging field of cross-border memory studies and cultural history. The study adopts entanglements as a way-of-seeing, influenced by the theoretical discussions on histoire croisée. Methodologically, this approach entails studies of interactions and the use of a wide range of source materials from the major groups involved in the commemorations, gathered from fifteen archives in both Sweden and the United States. By investigating both the planning and performance of the commemorations, the study analyzes the ways in which actors entangled history through the analytical concepts of modernity, race, and settler colonialism. These concepts provide an understanding of how actors made history meaningful in the present by, for example, emphasizing historical ruptures (through modernity), continuities (through racial genealogies), and significances (through claims that the settlers founded “civilization” in America).

Empirically, the dissertation discusses why certain groups appropriated the histories of New Sweden and the Swedish pioneers as their own; which histories that the actors agreed to commemorate and how these histories were characterized by settler colonial claims; how delegations were framed as traveling in the footsteps of the past, and made to represent shared social, political, and technological progress; how community festivals were forums where Swedes and Swedish Americans could interact and manifest their, sometimes differing, ideas about Swedishness; and how dinners were forums for international political and commercial relations, promoted through teleological claims of historical friendship. The study demonstrates how actors during the 1938 and 1948 commemorations entangled histories of mutual modernities, of friendly relations, and of Swedishness. These histories were permeated by contemporary social, political, and commercial interests as politicians, businessmen, cultural leaders, and others, claimed that Swedish settlers had founded civilization in North America. The study shows that these historical representations have been resilient and malleable, and that they have continued to be circulated during the twenty-first century.



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