Published by EH.Net (May 2014)

Caspar Jørgensen and Morten Pedersen, editors, Industrial Heritage in Denmark: Landscapes, Environments and Historical Archaeology.  Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 2014.  285 pp. $55/300 krone (hardback), ISBN: 978-87-7124-108-2.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Per Boje, Centre for Industrial and Business History, University of Southern Denmark.

Denmark in general has been considered more of an agricultural country than an industrial nation. According to much historical literature, Danish as well as foreign, Denmark was a late-comer regarding industrialization and Danish economic growth has been explained as an exception. Not because of industrialization, but thanks to agricultural exports and a modernizing agricultural sector, Denmark was one of the more wealthy European countries from the middle of the nineteenth century. So at least the story is told in numerous books and articles.

The story has some truth to it. However, it is very incomplete and I would say largely skewed. Export statistics underestimate the industrial component of Danish export products and in addition the general modernization of Danish society was thanks to a growing industrial sector and a tertiary sector highly competitive internationally. Danish development benefitted from foreign earnings of Danish multinationals in the secondary and especially the tertiary sector and from a rather large amount of foreign direct investment into Denmark in infrastructure and industry – not just related to agriculture. The Danish industrial sector was characterized by having companies in many trades, and although it was concentrated in Copenhagen and some bigger provincial cities its geographical location was rather widespread. The lay observer might miss the point that the Danish industrial workforce in total was close to or even at par with other countries characterized as industrial.

A limited group of historians have given attention to Danish industrialization. Although being a minority among their peers, their impact has been growing from the 1970s, not least thanks to some of them being very enthusiastic in trying to develop a common understanding of the Danish industrial heritage. Later than in some of the neighboring countries (but not that much later), in line with the development in other countries, and probably helped by a growing awareness of the physical results of deindustrialization in cities and at industrial locations in the countryside, documentation and preservation of the industrial heritage has been a growing industry – including a growing number of industrial museums. This newly published book, Industrial Heritage in Denmark: Landscapes, Environments and Historical Archaeology edited by Casper Jørgensen and Morten Pedersen, tells the story of industrial Denmark and the work of preserving the Danish industrial heritage.

The book might be highly recommended to industrial archaeologists and to any person interested in understanding Danish modernization. It contains a useful description of 25 locations selected by the Danish authorities because of their importance as industrial heritage monuments, but it also contains articles giving an overview of the historiography of Danish industrial history and the work of the last decades establishing public support for preserving some of the more valuable industrial heritage monuments. In addition, the reader finds articles with reflections on different strategies for preserving locations of the industrial past and articles on some selected areas with a history of special interests regarding industrial archaeology, namely Danish ports, Danish sugar beet refineries and cement plants. All articles are very informative and with excellent illustrations, written by experts drawing on bigger projects within the field.
Per Boje is Director of the Centre for Industrial and Business History at the University of Southern Denmark and the author of “Danish Economic History: Towards a New Millennium,” Scandinavian Economic History Review (2002) and Villum Kann Rasmussen: Inventor and Entrepreneur (Copenhagen 2004).

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