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Whose Tordenskjold? The Fluctuating Identities of an Eighteenth-Century Naval Hero in Nineteenth-Century Cultural Nationalisms


The naval hero Peter Wessel Tordenskjold (1690–1720) was one of the most celebrated historical figures in both nineteenth-century Norway and Denmark. This double national cultivation gave cause for an ongoing feud between Danish and Norwegian historians concerning his true fatherland. At the same time, the uncertainty surrounding his exact nationality offered a wealth of material for narratives of Dano-Norwegian, and even pan-Scandinavian rapprochement. This article explores Tordenskjold’s track record as a figure of national cultivation by treating him as a dynamic and transnational memory site (lieu de mémoire). It will be demonstrated that the contestation surrounding the ownership of his memory formed an important motivation for the rich artistic cultivation of this national hero, while the symbolic meaning attributed to him was subjected to the ideological needs of the individuals and groups appropriating him. As such, Tordenskjold came to be alternately ingrained in Danish, Norwegian, Dano-Norwegian, and Scandinavian frameworks according to the relevant political and social circumstances.