The Congress of Anthropology and Archaeology in Copenhagen 1869 - Behind the Stage

By Wiell, Stine | Antiquity, March 1999 | Go to article overview

The Congress of Anthropology and Archaeology in Copenhagen 1869 - Behind the Stage


Wiell, Stine, Antiquity


Introduction

From the beginning, prehistoric archaeology in Denmark was aimed at an international forum and the Danish archaeologist worked in international languages.

But, as a consequence of the national-political situation after a war with the Prussians and the Austrians in 1864, in which Denmark lost two-fifths of the country (the Duchies) [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED], national feelings called for national unity where the past was concerned and the course of the conference renders a contemporary view of the relation between an understanding of the national archaeology and the internationalizing of the profession.

The background for the congress

At the commencement of the 19th century, archaeology in Denmark established itself as two different disciplines - Classical Archaeology and Nordic Archaeology. Domestic/National archaeology became a tool in maintaining the historical continuity of the Danes back to prehistoric time.

The aim of this paper is to trace the roots of the first international archaeological congresses in the 19th century. The first conferences took place in Neuchatel (1866), Paris (1867) and in Norwich and London (1868). The fourth congress took place in Copenhagen from 27 August to 5 September 1869. The concern with prehistory was a consequence of the endeavours to establish a democracy after the French Revolution. The international congresses originated from the increasing self-understanding and self-confidence of the bourgeois in their own worth. The conferences were introduced in a century in which national states were created and established themselves within borders, and sought to create a unity of language, people and history.

A media event

The congress in Copenhagen became a media event. It was described in newspapers nationally as well as internationally [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]. However, much more went on behind the stage than is to be read in the press and also in the official Danish congress report, written in French (Schmidt 1875).

What really happened equals the experience of a theatre production behind the stage - in the wings. Here you can meet art as well as reality. Two main sources, kept in private archives, illustrate this situation. One is the posthumous papers of the wellknown Dane J.J.A. Worsaae in the National Museum, Copenhagen. The other is the private archive of the Mecklenburgian Geheimearchivar, G.C.Fr. Lisch, in Schwerin, Germany.(1) Other sources are foreign reports from the congress and private correspondence between participants.

The participants

About 340 participants from 17 different countries in Europe and America gathered at the congress. J.J.A. Worsaae, director of the 'Museum for Nordiske Oldsager' (later part of the National Museum) in Copenhagen, was president [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED]. The Danish press portrayed some of the foreign participants, e.g. the two Frenchmen, Henry Martin and A. de Quatrefages, the Russian, Alexis Ouvaroff, from Switzerland Carl Vogt and Eduard Desor, and one of the founders of the international congresses, Giovanni Cappellini, from Italy [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURES 4-6 OMITTED].

Only a single Scandinavian scientist was portrayed, the Swedish professor of Zoology, Sven Nilsson. Other, more significant scientists, e.g. the two Germans, G.C.Fr. Lisch and the famous doctor and anthropologist, Rudolph Virchow, were not portrayed. At that time it was definitely not 'comme il faut' for the Danish tabloid to praise the achievements of the Germans.

The opening and the museums

At the opening of the congress, Worsaae praised the first generation of European archaeologists, the creators of the three-part division of prehistory. He paid tribute to his predecessor as director, Christian Jurgensen Thomsen (d. 1865) and also mentioned G.C.Fr. Lisch and Sven Nilsson, both of whom were present. These two had, albeit to a lesser degree than Thomsen, also acknowledged the significance of the three-part division. …

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