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Memoria e Ricerca

Un eroe danese in tempo di guerra. Il festival di Tordenskiold a Frederikshavn dal 1998 al 2010

di Dan Henry Andersen
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 37 (2011), p. 37



A Danish hero in times of war.

The Tordenskiold festival in Frederikshavn 1998-2010


by Dan H. Andersen, Independent Scholar, Copenhagen,

[danh.andersen@gmail.com]


The Tordenskiold Days (Tordenskioldsdage) which takes place at the end of June in Frederikshavn in Denmark, is the largest historical maritime festival in Scandinavia. From a modest start in 1998 it has grown into an ambitious three day extravaganza with a play, mock naval battle, concerts, markets, and many replica and sailing ships throng the harbour. In 2009 and 2010 the number of participants reached a thousand, most of them in period costumes, and about 45.000 visitors passed the gates. This article examines the beginning and development of the festival, discusses the concept of authenticity, and argues that historical festivals and reenactments are legitimate and authentic communicators of historical knowledge by enabling participants to act and feel the past in a way that supplements and in some cases transcends other ways of reaching the past.


The city


Frederikshavn (literally Frederiks Port) is situated on the east coast of northern Jutland 31 km from the tip of the peninsula. The original name was Fladstrand (flat beach) indicates its role as a small port and fishing village. It was renamed Frederikshavn in 1818 when the town was given market town privileges. Present population is about 23.000 inhabitants. It is part of the municipality of Frederikshavn (Frederikshavn kommune) with about 63.000 inhabitants. The oldest building in the town is the gun powder tower built as part of the fortress 1686-90. By 1974 the round white building with the red tiled roof was sitting incongruously and inconveniently among the cranes in a shipyard and was moved 270 meters to its present location overlooking one of the entrances to the harbour. The gun powder tower and the harbour entrance are now at the centre of the festival area. 1.


Frederikshavn has been hard hit by closure or downsizing of important industries. In 1999 duty free sales between EU countries were abolished, which at a stroke eliminated much income from the liquor route between Frederikshavn and Gothenburg. The two shipbuilders Danyard and Ørskov closed in 1999 and 2002, though Ørskov was later reopened as a repair yard. Man Diesel & Turbo had a big establishment in Frederikshavn producing propellers and diesel engines, but now only a service department is left. Though many small companies have been established in the Frederikshavn Maritime Enterprise Park (Frederikshavn Maritime Erhvervspark or FME) on the areas of the closed shipyards,2 the loss of regular blue colour jobs has been substantial and severe. The biggest employers in the city of Frederikshavn are the municipality and the naval station.


Deprivation is a relative thing, and Frederikshavn is not a poor city. There is a thriving hotel business catering for tourists from Sweden and Norway, a long pedestrian street with up market shops, cafes, and gourmet restaurants. The landscape outside the town is absolutely spectacular. However, the development in Frederikshavn mirrors that of innumerable other industrial cities in the western world, which have been hit by the decline of manufacturing. A way of life is disappearing and a walk through the giant and empty halls of Man Diesel in Frederikshavn makes you sense the loss acutely and wonder what can replace it.


One of the answers has been to strengthen the knowledge and experience economy. The knowledge economy is usually centered on the big cities, because knowledge industries attract each other and cluster around universities. In Denmark it is primarily Copenhagen and the second largest city Aarhus. Cities and towns in the periphery are more likely to invest in experience economy. The great symbol and inspiration is Bilbao and its Guggenheim Museum. A logical step is to create events that are tied to a particular place and cannot be copied.


Frederikshavn has also invested in the experience economy.3 There is a house of music (Det Musiske Hus),4 a big centre for congresses, sports or cultural events (Arena Nord).5 Bill Clinton visited Frederikshavn in 2006, and the head of the tourist office reportedly said "We shall exploit it ruthlessly" (sic). The official slogan of this new commercial strategy is "From shipyard city to host city" (Fra værftsby til værtsby).


A spectacular experience project is the Palm Beach (Palmestranden).6 In 2004 it was proposed to establish a palm beach a bit north of Frederikshavn, and within a short span of time the project was passed by the city council and the first trees purchased and put on the beach. The collection has grown and regularly features in foreign descriptions of Northern Jutland. It is an amazing and surreal feeling to be on a beach in Northern Europe and see the palm trees on the white sand and beyond that the blue sea receding into infinity. During the winter the trees are placed in a municipal greenhouse or farmed out to offices. The Palm Beach is an example of the inspired madness that you can meet in provincial cities like Frederikshavn. Compared with the capital, citizens are closer to the decision makers, various networks are intertwined and almost incestuous, and the road from idea to execution is shorter.


The hero


He was born Peter Janssen Wessel7 in 1690 in Trondheim in Norway, then a part of the Danish conglomerate state. His early life is obscure, but he probably left Trondheim in 1704 and went to Copenhagen. After unsuccessful applications to enter the naval academy he went on long sea voyages, first 1706-08 on a slave trader to the Danish possessions in Africa and the West Indies, then 1708-10 on an East Indiaman to India. During the Great Northern War 1709-208 he rose rapidly through the ranks, and his flamboyant exploits, bravery and tactical skills became famous. He was ennobled Tordenskiold (literallyThundershield) in 1716. At the end of the war he was vice admiral and third in the Danish naval establishment. On 12 November 1720 he was killed in a duel in the village of Gleidingen near Hannover. He resembles Horatio Nelson in his combination of personal bravery, efficient naval leadership, and shameless self promotion. Tordenskiold has been an iconic hero in Denmark and Norway since the 18th century.9


The writer


I have been attached to the Tordenskiold festival for six years. In 2004 I published Mandsmod og kongegunst (Man´s Courage and royal Favour) which was the first scholarly biography of Tordenskiold since the Norwegian naval captain Olav Bergersen published his two volume biography Viceadmiral Tordenskiold in 1925.10 For this reason, I was subsequently contacted by the organizers of the festival which I had not heard about. That is not strange as it seems. I live in Copenhagen, and Danish press is much centered on what happens in the capital. One of the frustrations of the festival is the failure to break through the barrier and reach nationwide recognition.


I have visited the festival every year since 2005. As free-lance “public historian” I have given lectures to politicians and businessmen, written small articles for the festival program, and participated in naval battles and performances in Arendal in Norway and Gothenburg in Sweden. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 I wrote the open air play which ends each day of the festival. I have been elected member of the ancient "Order of the Golden Lion" which was created by a group of participants a few years ago. I am the order's Royal Naval Historian, and as befits a noble order, I have my own motto which is "Scribe, stick to thy profession". The main activity of the order is to elect new members, eat a good brunch together and wash it down with liberal amounts of Fernet Branca. Funny things must be taken seriously. During my participation in the festival, I am usually dressed in an elegant naval officer's uniform ca. 1720, though I will from time to time hang out in the more modest and relaxed costume of an able seaman.11


This article is partly based upon my observations and conversations during the last six years with organisors, participants, and the audience which is always central for any public history reenactment. For this article in Memoria e Ricerca, I have specifically interviewed a number of people involved in the festival, including sponsors and politicians. There is no ordered archive for the Tordenskiold foundation which runs the festival, but I have been given accounts and various surveys and project proposals for the latest years. Carsten Meldgaard, who was one of the initiators of the first festivals and is presently head of Frederikshavn Production and Business School, gave me access to his files which contain complete news paper clippings, leaflets, posters, copies of invitations to press, politicians and companies, memos, letters, etc for the years 1998-2003. Where nothing else is mentioned, information about the establishment of the festival and the early years is from this collection. Lise Gotfriedsen from the festival's corps of musicians, lent me her very complete collection of news paper clipping, songs, invitations and documents. I have anonymised all interviews. I felt that people would be more relaxed that way, and there was no reason to create problems and divisions among the participants of the festival. Insider status can be a problem for research, but my point is that in the case of a history telling and experience festival, you have to experience it directly. Analytical detachment is certainly not sufficient. You can analyse from the top, but to understand the festival, you must experience it from below.


(A bird's eyes view of the festival site 2010. Photographer Jørgen Anker Simonsen)


The beginning


In the past there had been various activities in Frederikshavn connected to Tordenskiold and the city's maritime history. In conversations with the local museum I have been told that in the 1950s and 1970s there had been small happenings or events where people had appeared as Tordenskiold. The boys guard called the Tordenskioldgarden was founded in 1956 and still exists.12 In 1990 a statue of Tordenskiold was erected on the main pedestian street.


(The Tordenskiold Statue in Frederikshavn 2010. Photographer Claus Børre Petersen.)


In 1995 Tall Ship's Race came to Frederikshavn, and among the many events a historical group from Arendal in Norway staged a Swedish invasion and a battle on old entrenchments at the beach in the north of the city. One of the persons I interviewed told me that on that day some of the later initiators of the Tordenskiold festival specifically began to talk about historical reenactments in Frederikshavn. The Norwegian attack is also mentioned in an early memo from Carsten Meldgaard's collection dated late 1997 or early 1998 as an example of how a historical performance can attract a huge audience one of the primary requirements of any public history activities.

The initiative for the Tordenskiold Festival came from Frederikshavn Production and Business School (Frederikshavn Produktionsskole).13 The school teaches practical and theoretical skills in metalworking, timber, design, textiles and food preparation. The purpose is to prepare students for entering more advanced schools or to go directly on the labour market. The production schools are not high on the educational hierarchy, and in the mid 1990's there was a great desire on part of the staff to lift the reputation of the school with some sort of project.


In 1997 a group of teachers from the school visited the new salt hut on the island of Læsø (about 2.000 inhabitants) midway between Frederikshavn and Gothenburg.14 In 1990 the medieval archaeologist Jens Vellev started the project "Læsø salt", the purpose of which was to reestablish salt extraction on the island using medieval technology.15 It was planned as a combination of research project and tourism event. Læsø Sydesalt has been a spectacular success, and it is now one of the principal industries on the island. There are two salt huts working and an annual production of 75 tones of high price salt. Presently it is run by a foundation and has branched out into wellness and locally sourced food. In the early stages of the project, Læsø Production and Business School (Læsø Produktionsskole) which is now closed, was involved in running the salt huts, and the mixture of practical skills, story, history, creating value out of history, basically "doing something" made a profound impression.


On Læsø and later back in Frederikshavn the teachers discussed what do to, and it soon turned to the idea of a kind of historical performance, of popularizing history. Several participants credit the view of the gun powder tower with the inspiration. The various workshops of the production school would set to work on the practical aspects of the performance, such as sewing costumes, casting cannons, building gun carriages, and preparing the food. A very early memo from 1997 or early 1998 in Carsten Meldgaard's collection sets out the ideas:


It should be an offer to the citizens of Frederikshavn.

It should communicate and popularize history.

The time is 1709, the year of Denmark's entry into The Great Northern War

It would take place in the small park surrounding the gun powder tower

There would be:

Workshops and smithies

Danish and Swedish soldiers in historical costumes

A play

The attack by a Swedish frigate in the harbour would be simulated by laser light projected on the grain silo at the harbour front

Cannons

Explosives in an artificial pond by the gun powder tower (later changed to the harbour) to create splashes that simulate the impact of cannon balls.


In another early internal memo with similar content (also from Carsten Meldgaard's collection) the year proposed is 1658, which was another year of war between Denmark and Sweden. Very soon the year 1717 and Tordenskiold emerged. It was not yet called Tordenskioldsdage, but in the spring of 1998 a website www.tordenskjold.dk was registered16 (Tordenskiold is spelled alternatively with j).17 1717 is graphically more powerful, and the festival appropriated an iconic hero for the town.

An early drawing linked the festival with the planned abolition of duty free sales between EU countries. On top of the page is printed: "What are we going to sell when duty free sales stop?" (Hvad skal vi sælge når den toldfrie handel holder op?) Below is a drawing of a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka. On the bottle's top label it continues (in Danish) "Er Smi'rnok" It is a pun on Smirnoff and smiger = flattery. It says: Is Smirnoff/flattery enough? Below is a drawing of the gun powder tower on the label of the bottle and the text: "The year is 1717. Great Northern War." (Året er 1717. Store Nordisk krig). The artist is Jan Michael Madsen, one of the teachers and later director of the festival.

(Drawing by Jan Michael Madsen)


A steering committee was formed consisting of the production school, the local museum Bangsbo, and Martin Gruppen, a local company specialising in artificial light. In the invitation for a presentation for 40 companies and organisations in the gun powder tower in the middle of April 1998 (In Carsten Meldgaard's collection) the organisers emphasized the idea of a festival as a mobilizing factor for the city in the new millennium. The first words of the invitation are: "We are sitting on a golden egg." In very general terms the invitation continues by stressing the need for creativity in the new millennium, the branding of Frederikshavn as a place for historical reenactment and the popularization of history.


The first festival took place on 12 and 13 August 1998. It was opened by the minister of culture, Elisabeth Gerner Nielsen, and watched by about a thousand spectators.18 It included the same elements as the early memo set out. Especially the firing of live cannons and the laser projection on the grain silo seems to have impressed spectators and press. One element that was not repeated the following year in 1999, was the live slaughtering of chickens which some spectators found a bit too realistic.


The Norwegian researcher Berit Eide Johnsen has analysed the maritime summer festivals in Arendal and Farsund in southern Norway as well as the Tordenskiold festival in Frederikshavn. Her theory is that they are "local communities' response to (relative) economic deprivation, population decrease and industrial decline."19 The Tordenskiold Festival seems to follow this pattern, but it is not as simple as that. It is problematic to talk about any collective response. The festival began as a very local project which had to do with the needs of the production school, and then it grew to become a city project. The festival was later promoted as an example of experience economy" on a regional basis.


The various participants that I have interviewed, hardly ever mentioned economic changes or experience economy as a motivation for the Festival. They talk about interest in history, resurrecting old costumes and melodies, producing gun powder and shooting with cannons, and a social activity like meeting friends. Others, myself included, have stressed the more ideological aspects of the festival in regard to gender and the "normalization" of society in lectures and interviews about Tordenskiold. Our point is that Scandinavian society is increasingly feminized. It may come as a novelty for readers in more macho societies, but in spite of feminist protests there is an increasing feeling in Denmark that boys are being left behind and that the dominance of women in kindergartens and schools creates an environment where normal behaviors is girls' behavior. Boys are heavily overrepresented in crime, antisocial behavior and psychological problems at school, and high school and university are being colonized by girls. One way of viewing Tordenskiold is as a role model. He left home at 13 and was notorious for his violence and lack of self control. The implication is that the so-called "wild boys" represent a resource which society must find a way to use. One kindergarten teacher mentioned to me that this was the way the festival was used by his kindergarten to reach the boys. The teachers could leave the kindergarten and bring the children to a different setting of experience, participating to history directly. At the festival the boys could have been active: fight with wooden swords, see workshops, sail, sing, and, as a whole, act and be wild.


The continuation


Success feeds the appetite, and since 1998 the festival has grown in size and ambition. More and more activities have been included. From the gun powder tower the festival area has spread to encompass one basin in the harbour. Instead of two days in August it is now three days on the last weekend of June. In spite of the general expansion in terms of quality and quantity, the festival still rests on three pillars: the play, the ships and the sea, and activities on land such as markets, salutes, lectures and period costumes. On a typical festival day there will be parades by musicians and soldiers, firing of cannons and guns. Reenactments of duels, punishment in the 18th century army, life music on various stages, reception of His Majesty Frederik IV, who may arrive by land or by sea, rope makers demonstrate their craft, an exhibition in the gun powder tower about the history of Frederikshavn, markets. Ships sail in and out of the harbour with sponsors or visitors, and during the day they salute. The day's activity end with the play which takes about an hour. It is a tradition that the play ends with a naval battle in the harbour.


There have also been several organisational changes. In early 1999 the organisation Tordenskiold's Soldiers (Tordenskiolds Soldater) was created as a support group for the festival. While the festival itself grew, a number of groups began to form under the Tordenskiold's Soldiers. These groups operate throughout the year. You can order them for various occasions such as festivals, the opening of a shop, or the completion of new public works.20 During the winter months the participants sew clothes, repair weapons, and train, and there is an extended co-operation with other historical groups in Scandinavia, mainly southern Norway.21 The Tordenskiold Festival was the main inspiration for Kjempestaden (Giant Town), the maritime festival in Arendal in southern Norway.22 The proliferation of groups is partly due to the expansion of the festival, partly to personal interests and in some cases differences. There is also the well known tendency of some people to create fiefdoms, and my interviews revealed some friction between the groups.

In 2003 the organisation was changed again. The auditors of the production school had warned that the school was too economically exposed to the festival. The result was that the school sharply reduced its involvement in the festival, and the Tordenskiold Foundation (Fonden Tordenskiold) was created. Jan Michael Madsen from the production school was appointed director and only employee of the Foundation which he has remained to this day. His official title is Idea Artilleryman (Idé artillerist). Tordenskiold's Soldiers are now an umbrella organisation for the volunteers. The Foundation organises the festival, sponsorships, and outreach activities. For the various performances it pays Tordenskiold's Soldiers a subsidy.


The festival's economy is based upon a triangle of sponsorships, selling of events, and generous subsidies from the municipality. The festival received its first subsidy of dkk 150,000 in 1999. In 2009 the annual subsidy had risen to dkk 1,150,000 (About 153,000 euros). From a lot of small sponsors for the first festivals, there are now a few big ones, the most important of which are Man Diesel and the local bankNordjyske Bank.


The city council's decision to support the festival was based upon pragmatic consideration. It supported a number of cultural activities, among the Tall Ship's Race. This huge event was only every ten year, and the council thought an annual event would be more beneficial. The motives were very general. The festival branded the city, created bonds between citizens, and there was the benefit of local and regional identity formation. It was a valuable city project and one of many ways that the council tried to counter the drain of people from Frederikshavn to bigger and more centrally located cities.

The dream society


Very early two motives were presented for the festival: To popularize history and to brand Frederikshavn. During the years the director of the festival has tried to sell the festival as part of the experience economy. The stated inspiration is Rolf Jensen's influential book "The Dream Society" from 1999,23 which argues that society is passing through a change from fact to feeling, from the information society to the dream society. Companies will not sell goods, but dreams and experiences. One of Rolf Jensen's examples is an egg. An egg is product that has been sold for hundreds of years, but now consumers are willing to pay 15-20% extra for free range eggs. They are buying a story of a way of living, of animal welfare, a feeling.


My view is that Jensen has a point and some interesting observations, but that he and others vastly overstated their range and importance. The idea that we can move production to Asia and somehow live from producing dreams is a fallacy and a fantasy. With world population rapidly approaching seven billion and resources overstretched, I doubt that there will be much surplus for dreaming, unless it is free. But the whole complex of the experience economy and selling immaterial things like dreams and experiences has become an intensive subject of discussion in academia and on a national and EU level at a time when China seems to be able to produce all the material objects worldwide needed. If nothing else, the experience economy generates a lot of work writing and talking about it! For the professional management of the Tordenskiold Festival it has been very tempting to sell the festival as an example of the dream society at work.24 Rolf Jensen is a guest at the festival and sits on the board of the foundation. The question is whether it is a good idea in the long run to hitch a historical festival to the experience economy wagon.


Invented history


It is a well known fact that the early stages of any institution will have inordinate importance by freezing some patterns and putting the institution on a certain path to the exclusion of others. The problem with choosing Tordenskiold as the hero and 1717 as the year is that Tordenskiold did not do much in Fladstrand (Frederikshavn) except load and unload his ships, which is not really such stuff which dreams are made on. He wrote a number of letters "At anchor at Fladstrand",25 but the village's main function was as the main port for sending supplies or troops from Denmark to Norway. As a matter of fact the only naval battle near Fladstrand was in 1712 at the Hirsholmene, a group of small islands seven km north-east of Frederikshavn.


But the very first year of the festival established a tradition about the content and structure of the play which has remained to this day in spite of changes. Tordenskiold is in Fladstrand which is threatened by a Swedish attack to destroy the ships in the harbour. There is often a subplot involving a young couple from the village where the boy is torn between desire for adventure and love of the girl. The play ends with a huge staged battle in the harbour where the Swedish attack is repulsed. The first plays were short affairs with stylized acting and the actors did not speak their lines on stage, but mimed to prerecorded words. Now the plays are sophisticated presentations lasting an hour, up to 50 actors, a few of them professional. There is widescreen transmission of the play and pre-recorded video sequences, and the actors speak their lines live in microphones.26


Appropriating an iconic hero like Tordenskiold for Frederikshavn and the festival was stroke of strategic genius, but it brought problems in regard to authenticity. The plays are not reenactments, but invented history.27 It had to create problems with the museum which had played a substantial role in the preparation for the first festival by producing fact sheets and acting as a historical advisor. But now the festival and the museum parted ways. The museum usually has an exhibition in the gun powder tower during the festival, and the director of the museum is on the board of the Tordenskiold Foundation, but otherwise the museum is not involved in the festival and other activities of the foundation,


Apart from early friction between the production school and the museum about money and what the museum could offer, there was no way the museum could continue active participation in the festival. The ethical rules of ICOM (International Council of Museums) state clearly in §4.6: "Information published by museums, by whatever means, should be well-founded, accurate and give responsible consideration to the academic disciplines, societies, or beliefs presented. Museum publications should not compromise the standards of the institution." From the point of view of the museum, this precludes participation in invented history of the kind that is presented in these plays.28


Authenticity


The festival has been able to mobilize a part of the citizens to an unprecedented degree. You cannot visit the festival without being struck by the spontaneous energy and fascination of the volunteers and participants. For a few days they live the past. In that sense the festival lives up to the idea of a dream society, what Jan Michael Madsen has coined as storyliving. It is also easy to see that this is not the past understood as a specific year, but a more general past as "a long time ago", sometimes 300 years, sometimes much less.


The organizers have made a determined effort not to turn the festival into a normal harbour festival. There are no balloons, burgers or plastic cups. Beer is served in ceramic mugs (imported from China!), and there is a strict control with the various shops to avoid a modern look. But it is an authentic and past look, not the authentic past. Periods are mixed, and the sailing ships are from the 19th and 20th century with engines and many modern comforts.


It is easy to contrast the historians' precise and accurate descriptions and analysis of past events and structures with the historical or heritage festivals' "invention of tradition" and "social construction" of "negotiated authenticity" (or whatever phrases you can find in the historical analysis toolkit) and find the festivals lacking. Obviously the festivals demonstrate a problem with historical truth and authenticity.


However, the view seen from a participant and public historian is different. On a pragmatic level, there is no way that a historical festival or reenactment can be really authentic. The bodies' of the participants are different from humans of the past. Modern humans are on an average 20 cm taller than 18th century humans. The whole matrix of nutrition, dentistry, medical intervention, and culture has changed and channeled the modern body in a different direction from that of the past. One point which I as a writer of historical novels and plays have pondered a lot, is the presentation of the body. We are one of the first generations in human history to be able to surgically beautify the body. The result is a highly aesthetic view of the body and refusal to accept defects and impurities. This will inevitably erect a barrier towards the body of the past and create a "short and brutish" view of past people. My conclusion is that understanding and experiencing the past experience can paradoxically necessitate a sanitized or evenromanticized version of the past.


This authenticity problem becomes even more acute in the case of a maritime festival. There are numerous replica sailing ships, but their "correctness" has been severely compromised by the demands of modern safety and comfort. I doubt that any crew will accept going to the stern of the ship for necessary bodily functions, and authorities demand a huge range of safety measures in any replica ship that sails. Paradoxically, the only "true" replica ships are the ones that do not sail. As to life on board, 18th century naval discipline is now only found in a modified version in come corners of the alternative life style scene.


If the script says a Swedish frigate attract the ships in harbour, the "frigate" will have to be a modern sailing ship with a few cannons placed on each their portable gun carriage, and it will enter the harbour under machine power. Otherwise the audience may be told to wait until tomorrow for a more favourable wind, or spend a couple of hours seeing the frigate tack or kedge into the harbour. The glacial speed of naval confrontations in the era of sailing ships cannot realistically be reproduced.


Writers have always played fast and loose with historical facts, witness Hamlet, Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers, and many Hollywood films. I fully realise the dangers of inventing history and distorting historical facts in order to entertain and inform. As professional historians we do have a duty to popularize history in a form that corresponds to historical facts.


Personally I see the plays at the Tordenskiold festival, my own included, as stories in a quasi-historical setting. A kind of might have been or variations on a hero's life. And I do not think that the majority of the audience believe the plays to be historical truth. The audience enters into an implicit agreement with the author and the actors that this is not the historical truth, but a meditation on history using a historical setting. In the plays at the Tordenskiold Festival, the small fishing village of Fladstrand has been turned into a kind of past place where the greater human drama is played out. In a sense these become morality plays.


The past experience - the experience of the past

I am a maritime historian, and I once casually wrote about the naval battle between the Danish and Swedish fleets off Rügen 8 August 1715: ...the two fleets hammered away at each other from half past one to eight in the evening."29 Nothing had prepared me for my first experience of standing next to a cannon when it was being fired. It was in 2005 on board the Russian replica frigate Shtandart 30 and the captain decided to make his guest happy by (totally illegally) putting a real cannon ball in the cannon. The sheer fright of the noise and the smoke and seeing the splash of the cannon ball several hundred meters from the ship was an overwhelming experience. It helped me understand a bit of the experience of the gun crews during a battle and the absolutely deadly effect of 18th century weapons.


(The author in a naval officer's uniform in front of the Swedish replica ship "Götheborg". 2010. Photographer Claus Børre Petersen.)


I also remember a performance in the harbour of Gothenburg, where a small Danish fleet attached the Götheborg, a replica of the 18th Century East Indiaman of the same name.31 Again it was an experience of great power to watch the gun ports open, and the cannons roll out, and from a distance of barely a hundred meters our mighty opponent fired in a rolling salvo at us. (I also experienced defeat. In Frederikshavn the play ends with "Swedish prisoners are led away", but in Gothenburg it ends with "Danish ships surrender".)


It is very easy to enumerate the imperfection of historical festivals and reenactments, the historical mistakes, the unavoidable lack of authenticity, the attempts to rebuild identities in a changing and unpredictable world, etc.32 But for participants’ viewpoint, these activities are powerful tools for connecting to the past experience, for moments of understanding and feeling the past with your whole body and being. In that sense they are liberating. There are other ways to live.


1 There are no foreign language descriptions or histories of Frederikshavn. English Wikipedia has a good entry on the town: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederikshavn. The municipality has a short and factually correct entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederikshavn_Municipality. The website of Frederikshavn municipality: http://www.frederikshavn.dk/da/menu/. In Danish.

2 http://www.fme.dk/. In Danish.

3 The term experience economy was first used in 1999 in a book by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore: The Experience Economy. Harvard Business School Press. Boston 1999. But the idea and the concept of a new type economy after the service economy has been discussed by many previous authors. See also Rolf Jensen's book mentioned later in this article where I will discuss the concept further.

4 http://www.detmusiskehus.dk/. In Danish.

5 http://www.arenanord.dk/. In Danish.

6 http://www.palmestranden.dk/. In Danish, English and Swedish. With some very good pictures.

7 The newest book about Peter Wessel Tordenskiold is Dan H. Andersen: Mandsmod og kongegunst. Aschehoug. Copenhagen 2004. Several later editions. Norwegian translation: Tordenskiold: en biografi om eventyreren og sjøhelten. Spartacus. Oslo 2006. The English and German Wikipedia entries on Tordenskiold are substantial, but especially in the former there are many mistakes and outdated views.

8 There is a huge deficit in works about Denmark in foreign languages. The latest history of Denmark in English is Knud J. V. Jespersen: A History of Denmark (Palgrave Essential Histories) 2004. There are many references in the English Wikipedia entry on Denmark: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Denmark. On the Great Northern War the English Wikipedia entry is long and good http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Northern_War

9 Dan H. Andersen op.cit. pp 337-342.

10 Olav Bergersen: Viceadmiral Tordenskiold. 2 vols. Selfpublished. Trondheim 1925.

11 DVD's of my three plays are available from the organizers of the festival.

12 http://www.tordenskioldga.mono.net/. The website will soon be changed to http://www.tordenskioldgarden.dk/.

13 http://www.fp-products.dk/. In Danish.

14 The English Wikipedia entry for Læsø is not bad: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Læsø

15 http://www.saltsyderiet.dk/. In Danish.

16 You can view it in the web archive for the first time in 1998 here: http://web.archive.org/web/19981111183522/http://www.tordenskjold.dk/ (no images) but a better archived version of the site in 2001 is here: http://web.archive.org/web/20010405091741/http://tordenskjold.dk/ and you have further archived versions until 2007.

17 The present website is http://www.tordenskiold.dk In the Internet Archive all available versions starting 2001 are available at http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.tordenskiold.dk

18 Report in the local paper Frederikshavns Avis 13 August 1998. On festivals see Francesco Catastini’s essay in this MR 37/2011 issue on Public History. Pratiche Nazionali e Identità Globale.

19 B.E. Johnsen: "What a maritime history? The uses of maritime history in summer festivals in southern Norway.", in Journal of Tourism History vol.1, no. 2, 2009, pp. 113-130. In this article the author discuss such concepts like “tradition, history and authenticity.

20 http://www.tordenskiold.dk/soldater/velkommen/. In Danish.

21 Many of these group can be found here with links: http://www.tordenskiold.dk/aaret-2011/historiske-grupper/

22 http://www.kjempestaden.no/index.php?page=forsiden. In Norwegian. See also B.E. Johnsen op.cit. with discussion of the festivals in Arendal and Fahrsund in Southern Norway.

23 Rolf Jensen: The dream society : how the coming shift from information to imagination will transform your business., New York : McGraw-Hill, 1999.

24 The ”recreative” role of history presented to a wider public is present in Eric Breitbart: ”The painted mirror: historical re-creation from the panorama to the docudrama.”, in Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier e Roy Rosenzweig (eds): Presenting the past: essays on history and the public., Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986.

25 Olav Bergersen (edt.): Tordenskiolds brev. Universitetsforlaget. Oslo 1963. Examples are letters no. 212-218, 249-260, written 9 December 1716-25 January 1717.

26 A video from the play 2009 can be seen here: http://www.kanalfrederikshavn.dk/vis/nyhed/gense-hoejdepunkterne-fra-spillet-paa-kattegat-scenen/. You can find a number of videos on Youtube by searching "tordenskioldsdage".

27 About this see B.E. Johnsen op.cit. and Barbara Franco: “The practice of Public History in urban history museums and historical societies.”, in James B. Gardner and Peter S. LaPaglia (eds.): Public history: essays from the field., Malabar, Fla.: Krieger Pub. Co., 2006, 307-324.

28 See, ICOM code of ethics for museums, <http://icom.museum/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/Codes/code2006_eng.pdf>

29 Dan H. Andersen op.cit.p. 166.

30 Official website about the Shtandart, the recreated 1703 Russian frigate, <www.shtandart.com>

31 Here is a video on youtube of the performance in Gothgenburg on 15 August 2009 where three Danish vessels attack the Swedish East Indiaman "Götheborg". I am on one of the Danish ships and suffer defeat after a valient struggle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHu494uaBW8

32 B.E. Johnsen op.cit. uses a lot of space enumerating such historical mistakes in the festivals in Fahrsund and Arendal. I have to record that on p. 124 she gives a wrong year for Tordenskiold's birth, 1691 instead of the correct 1690.