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The Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands: Interpretations of History

Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 280
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    The Faroe Islands
    Book Description:

    Stranded in a stormy corner of the North Atlantic midway between Norway and Iceland, the Faroe Islands are part of "the unknown Western Europe" -- a region of recent economic development and subnational peoples facing uncertain futures. This book tells the remarkable story of the Faroes' cultural survival since their Viking settlement in the early ninth century.

    At first an unruly little republic, the islands soon became tributary to Norway, dwindled into a Danish-Norwegian mercantilist fiefdom, and in 1816 were made a Danish province. Today, however, they are an internally self-governing Danish dependency, with a prosperous export fishery and a rich intellectual life carried out in the local language, Faroese.

    Jonathan Wylie, an anthropologist who has done extensive field work in the Faroes, creates here a vivid picture of everyday life and affairs of state over the centuries, using sources ranging from folkloric texts to parliamentary minutes and from census data to travelers' tales. He argues that the Faroes' long economic stagnation preserved an archaic way of life that was seriously threatened by their economic renaissance in the nineteenth century, especially as this was accompanied by a closer political incorporation into Denmark.

    The Faroese accommodated increasingly profound social change by selectively restating their literary and historical heritage. Their success depended on domesticating a Danish ideology glorifying "folkish" ways and so claiming a nationality separate from Denmark's. The book concludes by comparing the Faroes' nationality-without-nationhood to the contrasting situations of their closest neighbors, Iceland and Shetland.

    The Faroe Islandsis an important contribution to Scandinavian as well as regional and ethnic studies and to the growing literature combining the insights and techniques of anthropology and history. Engagingly written and richly illustrated, it will also appeal to scholars in other fields and to anyone intrigued by the lands and peoples of the North.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6170-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Terra Incognita
    (pp. 1-6)

    In these days of travel, when the world seems too small for the inexhaustible globe-trotter and every spot that is at all accessible is overrun with excursionists, it is refreshing to find a remote comer in Europe that has up to the present been spared the desecrating foot of the tourist, and still remains aterra incognita. To those who would diverge from the beaten track, and enter the confines of [the] mysterious North …, Iceland offers a fair field, and the Faröe Islands should be included, as they are on a direct route. [Anon. 1899:385]

    The author of these...

  6. PART ONE: Norse Settlement to Danish Monopoly

    • CHAPTER ONE Another Set of Small Islands: The Faroes in the Norse World, circa 800-1550
      (pp. 7-19)

      At Aix-la-Chapelle in the year 825, the Irish monk and scholar Dicuil composed an essay calledLiber de mensura orbis terrœ, “The Book of the Measurement of the Earth,” in which he reckoned the world’s extent by piecing together estimates of distances between known points. Dicuil drew most of his data from ancient sources, but occasionally he added something fresh. Thus, having noted that around Britain islands “abound mostly to the north-west and north,” he went on: “Among these I have lived in some, and have visited others; some I have only glimpsed, while others I have read about.” Still...

    • CHAPTER TWO Church, King, Company, and Country: The Reformation and Its Aftermath, 1540-1709
      (pp. 20-40)

      In January 1523, with Sweden in revolt and a Lübeck fleet harrying the Danish coast, a group of Jutland noblemen renounced their allegiance to Christian II. Civil war broke out. In March, Christian’s uncle, Duke Frederik of Holstein-Gottorp, was formally elected king. Christian fled to Holland in April. He made a disastrous attempt to invade Denmark in 1531 and was imprisoned by Frederik.

      Frederik died two years later. Civil war broke out again, lasting until the triumphant entry into Copenhagen in 1536 of his eldest son, Christian III, a convinced Lutheran whose victory assured the success of the Reformation in...

    • CHAPTER THREE Outside the Wall: Seventeenth-Century Society in Legend
      (pp. 41-64)

      Especially in the long, dark, stormy winter evenings, when the day’s work was done, families and hired hands would gather in the kitchen to card, spin, knit, and do other indoor chores. These evening gatherings, calledkvøldsetur, were economically productive occasions; as Lucas Debes remarked, Faroese “are not accustomed to pass the time idly or in vain jollity” (1963 [1673]: 118).Kvøldseturalso provided the main occasion for recounting folktales and legends and for reciting the old ballads, though these were more closely associated with dancing at festival times.¹Kvøldseturwere thus a primary institution of remembrance. They remained an...

  7. PART TWO: Toward a National Culture in an Odd Danish Province

    • CHAPTER FOUR A Great Deal of Fuss for an Omelet: A Precarious Stability, 1709-1816
      (pp. 65-88)

      Frederik von Gabel died on 21 June 1708. His heirs briefly retained the Faroe trade, but the following May it was taken over by a department of the Exchequer (Rentekammer), which was responsible to the king.¹ In the same year, the Faroes were administratively incorporated in Sjælland province, to which they were returned after a long stretch during which they were combined in a single province with Iceland (1720-75).

      From 1771 on, several administrative changes were likewise made in the management of the Faroe trade. In 1774, for example, it was combined with the Finmark and Iceland trade, and in...

    • CHAPTER FIVE What Better Thing? The Copenhagen Connection, 1814-1855
      (pp. 89-112)

      So far we have been able to treat continental events as impinging intermittently on a still almost “medieval” Faroese society. Now our task becomes more difficult. On the one hand, the Faroes were more closely integrated with Denmark after 1814; on the other hand, they acquired a demographic and economic momentum of their own. What happened in Denmark thus affected a less and less passive society more and more immediately, openly posing the vexed question of how greatly Denmark and the Faroes did (and should) differ.

      This chapter concentrates on the Danish side of things in the first half of...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Transition from Monopoly: Social Change in the Faroes, 1856–1920
      (pp. 113-138)

      Four changes define the trajectory of Faroese social history in the nineteenth century. The trade monopoly was abolished in 1856. Fish replaced wool as the main export. The population tripled, rising from 5265 in 1801 to 15,230 in 1901. And the proportion of Faroese supported by what the censuses call “agriculture” fell from over 80 percent to under 30 percent, although the absolute number remained nearly constant, at around 4400. In short, a growing population was supported by an expanding and increasingly diversified economy based on an export fishery.

      Except for the abolition of the Monopoly, these were trends, not...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Now the Hour is Come to Hand: Culture and Politics, circa 1890-1920
      (pp. 139-172)

      Ideology and reality diverged in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1846 the Faroes acquired a written language in which little was written. At about the same time, they attained a “national” identity even as they were reduced to a Danish province.

      The divergence was of a complicated sort. For one thing, Danish ideals departed from Danish practice. Copenhagen’s liberal ideologues of the 1840s succeeded in revising the terms of debate about the Faroes’ status, but were unable (and in some cases unwilling) to enact a real separation between them and “Denmark proper.” Meanwhile, on the Faroese side of...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  8. CONCLUSION: Specters and Illusions The World Abroad and the World at Home
    (pp. 173-198)

    When Lucas Debes described the Faroes in 1673, he wished chiefly to bring their plight to the world’s attention. Probably few people cared. But Debes included in his book “a splendid collection of uncanny tales both old and new, under the heading ‘Of Specters and Illusions of Satan in Feroe,’” and thereby “gained a larger public than he could ever have anticipated” (Seaton 1935:218; see also Helgason 1940); the more so, perhaps, because he insisted that they were not “the meer fancies of melancholly people” (1676:367).

    This book, too, may gain a wider audience than Faroese affairs might otherwise attract,...

  9. APPENDIX: Governance and Governors
    (pp. 199-204)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 205-230)
  11. References
    (pp. 231-248)
  12. Index
    (pp. 249-257)