Tim William Machan
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The spectacle of history
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Northern Memories concerns how English writers of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries remembered Scandinavia, especially Iceland and Norway; how by remembering Scandinavia and its people they furthered contemporary sentiments not simply about that region but about the emerging global role of Great Britain; and how they often did so by selectively collapsing the contemporary world and the Middle Ages, providing memories of both in the process. More than simply a literary issue, the construction of an Anglo-Scandinavian ethnicity served as an organising principle for cultural politics, providing ways to read past and present alike as testaments to British exceptionalism. Much of what English critics of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries remembered about medieval English geography, history, religion, and literature, they remembered by means of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. As British visitors and thinkers encountered the Scandinavian ‘present’ in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, they similarly found evidence for the British past. Rather than a source study that traces the genealogy of cultural ideas, political contacts, or literary influences, this book is above all a theoretical inquiry about the persistence, independent imitation, and reproduction of Nordic tropes for the imagining of Britain and its medieval past.

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