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Post Danes in West Indies
Created by John Eipper on 04/21/17 4:13 AM

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Danes in West Indies (Holger Terp, Denmark, 04/21/17 4:13 am)

The Danish State Archives launched a new website on June 16th, 2014 that tells the story of the Danish colony in the West Indies up until the 1917 sale of the islands to the US.

The new website--http://www.virgin-islands-history.org/en/ --will contain all information from the Danish State Archives up to the centennial.




JE comments: Always a pleasure to hear from veteran WAISer Holger Terp of the Danish Peace Academy (Copenhagen).  Holger:  you've reminded us of the Danish colonies in the Caribbean, one of the more forgotten moments of colonial history.  To think that over the years, Spain, France, UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, the US, Russia (Cuba) and even East Germany (Ernst Thälmann Island) have been overlords in the Caribbean.  Now we should include Colombia and Venezuela.

These new archives will be a boon to historians.  Holger, has the "definitive" history of Denmark's two centuries in the West Indies ever been written (in English)?

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  • Danish West Indies: Research Materials (Holger Terp, Denmark 04/24/17 4:10 AM)
    In response to John E's question, the definitive history of the Danes in the West Indies seems to be waiting for an English-language book.

    A few titles:

    A guide to sources for the history of the Danish West Indies (US Virgin Islands), 1671-1917: Erik Gøbel. University Press of Southern Denmark, 2002.

    Natures of Conduct: Governmentality and the Danish West Indies. PhD dissertation. Rasmus Sielemann. Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen, 2015.

    A little bit more about the huge online archive:

    They contain five million files--approximately 15,000 series of images and more than 130,000 transcribed items.

    Original records from the West Indian local government take up approximately 870 linear meters. The documents from the Danish-West Indian central administration take up about 414 linear meters. Therefore, we are talking about a substantial amount of preserved records, letters, accounts, and other documents that were scanned in 2013-2016 and made available through this website in 2017.

    The collection was included on UNESCOs World Heritage List in 1997.

    JE comments: Thank you, Holger! There must be 3-4 more dissertations awaiting in those archives. Knowledge of Danish is required, to be sure.  I'd like to get a sense of where Imperial Denmark ranked on the "humanity scale."  Where they more on the benign end of the spectrum, or the ruthless one?  (I'm talking about the modern Danes, not their Viking ancestors.)

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    • Danes as Colonizers (Leo Goldberger, USA 04/26/17 3:33 AM)

      In response to Holger Terp's post (April 24th) in which JE wondered about Denmark's stance on the humanity scale back in the days of its Virgin Islands ownership, I share his curiosity and am especially curious about learning what the archival records have to say about the motivations behind the decision to abolish the slave trade as early as the 1840s, some 20 years before the US.

      As I recall from my history lessons as a youngster growing up in Denmark--where the central focus was on memorizing the lineage of our kings and their political decrees since the days of the Vikings--it was King Fredrick V who proposed the regulations for a more humane treatment of the slaves in the Virgin Islands. He in turn was followed by Fredrick VI's proposal to abolish slave trade altogether in 1778--though it took some eighty years to actually implement this dictate, back in 1848.

      I always wondered about Fredrick VI's motivation. As the son of the young King Christian VII--who suffered from schizophrenia and was largely ignored as a ruler and maltreated as well, Fredrick VI strove to improve the lives of the oppressed peasant population in feudal Denmark at the time, as well as ordering the release of the slaves in the Danish V.I. from their bondage and intolerable living conditions. Do the archival records Holger Terp refers to speak at all to that interpretation of family dynamics?

      Incidentally, while I welcome the recent WAIS focus on instances of oppression across the globe, I do question the use of the Holocaust designation as the over-arching category for these posts. In my view, such a generalization tends to diminish its unique reference to instances of systematic genocide.

      JE comments:   Britain was the first of Europe's Caribbean colonizers to abolish slavery, beginning in 1834. Denmark followed suit in 1846, two years before France.  The Dutch Caribbean maintained the institution for another fifteen years, until 1861.

      Leo Goldberg makes a great point about the misuse of the term "Holocaust."  The topic or heading of a WAIS post is automatically maintained throughout the entire discussion, unless I specifically change it.  Now we are in the Denmark category, but this could mutate into a discussion of Dutch colonization, or something totally tangential.

      A question for the Floor:  is it appropriate to speak of the transatlantic slave trade as a Holocaust?  Or how about a lower-case holocaust?  I would say yes, as it refers to the systematic and intentional destruction of a people.

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