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J. Laurence HareExcavating Nations: Archaeology, Museums, and the German-Danish Borderlands

University of Toronto Press, 2015

by Monica Black on June 28, 2015

J. Laurence Hare

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A recent book review I read began with the line "borderlands are back." It's certainly true that more and more historians have used borderland regions as the stage for some excellent work on the construction of national identities (or indifference to them) in recent years. J. Laurence Hare, Associate Professor of History at the University of Arkansas, makes a novel and highly compelling contribution to that literature with Excavating Nations: Archaeology, Museums, and the German-Danish Borderlands (University of Toronto Press, 2015). As the title suggests, the book looks at the role of antiquities and archaeology in the creation of Danish and German national identities from the early nationalist period through the twentieth century. The region between Denmark and Germany is perhaps not the place many Americans think of when they think of Scandinavia (home of wind-swept islands and fjords) or Germany (with its forests and Alpine vistas). Yet the German-Danish borderland has a very distinctive landscape all it own–of fens and moors, swamps and dikes–and that landscape contains fascinating antiquities. Unlike the Mediterranean, with its coliseums and cathedrals, the German-Danish borderland is the home of burial mounds and lost cities of the Viking Age, bog bodies and earth works, and mysterious treasures like the Golden Horns of Gallehus. Hare's book detailing the ways these artifacts of an ancient past came to stand as markers of modern identities is an elegantly written and thoroughly fascinating contribution to the expanding literature on borderlands.

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