The History of Denmark
Below is a brief history of Denmark. To find information other than history for Denmark then visit
the Denmark Country Page.
The Danes, a homogenous Gothic-Germanic people, have inhabited Denmark since prehistoric times. Danish is the principal language. English is a required school subject, and fluency is high. A small German-speaking minority lives in southern Jutland; a mostly Inuit population inhabits Greenland; and the Faroe Islands have a Nordic population with its own language. Education is compulsory from ages seven to 16 and is free through the university level.
Although religious freedom is guaranteed, the state-supported Evangelical Lutheran Church accounts for about 84% (down from 92% in 1984) of those persons claiming religious affiliation. Several other Christian denominations, as well as other major religions, find adherents in Denmark. Islam is now the second-largest religion in Denmark.
During the Viking period (9th-11th centuries), Denmark was a great power based on the Jutland Peninsula, the Island of Zealand, and the southern part of what is now Sweden. In the early 11th century, King Canute united Denmark and England for almost 30 years.
Viking raids brought Denmark into contact with Christianity, and in the 12th century, crown and church influence increased. By the late 13th century, royal power had waned, and the nobility forced the king to grant a charter, considered Denmark's first constitution. Although the struggle between crown and nobility continued into the 14th century, Queen Margrethe I succeeded in uniting Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland under the Danish crown. Sweden and Finland left the union in 1520; however, Norway remained until 1814. Iceland, in a "personal union" under the king of Denmark after 1918, became independent in 1944.
The Reformation was introduced in Denmark in 1536. Denmark's provinces in today's southwestern Sweden were lost in 1658, and Norway was transferred from the Danish to the Swedish crown in 1814, following the defeat of Napoleon, with whom Denmark was allied.
The Danish liberal movement gained momentum in the 1830s, and in 1849 Denmark became a constitutional monarchy. After the war with Prussia and Austria in 1864, Denmark was forced to cede Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia and adopt a policy of neutrality. Toward the end of the 19th century, Denmark inaugurated important social and labor market reforms, laying the basis for the present welfare state.
Denmark remained neutral during World War I. Despite its declaration of neutrality at the beginning of World War II, it was invaded by the Germans in 1940 and occupied until liberated by the Allied forces in May 1945. Resistance against the Germans was sporadic until late 1943. By then better organized, the resistance movement and other volunteers undertook a successful rescue mission in which nearly the entire Jewish population of Denmark was shipped to Sweden (whose neutrality was honored by Germany). However, extensive studies are still undertaken for the purpose of establishing a clearer picture of the degree of Danish cooperation--official and corporate--with the occupying power. Denmark became a charter member of the United Nations and was one of the original signers of the North Atlantic Treaty.
Denmark's rich intellectual heritage has made multifaceted contributions to modern culture the world over. The discoveries of astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), geologist and anatomist Niels Steensen (1639-86), and the brilliant contributions of Nobel laureates Niels Bohr (1885-1962) to atomic physics and Niels Finsen (1860-1904) to medical research indicate the range of Danish scientific achievement. The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75), the philosophical essays of Soeren Kierkegaard (1813-55), and the short stories of Karen Blixen (pseudonym Isak Dinesen; 1885-1962) have earned international recognition, as have the symphonies of Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). Danish applied art and industrial design have won so many awards for excellence such that the term "Danish Design" has become synonymous with high quality, craftsmanship, and functionalism. Among the leading lights of architecture and design was Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971), the "father of modern Danish design," whose jubilee year is celebrated in numerous retrospectives throughout Denmark in 2002. The name of Georg Jensen (1866-1935) is known worldwide for outstanding modern design in silver, and "Royal Copenhagen" is among the finest porcelains. No 'short list' of famous Danes would be complete without the entertainer and pianist Victor Borge (1909-2000), who emigrated to the United States under Nazi threat in 1940, and had a worldwide following when he died a naturalized U.S. citizen in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the age of 91.
Visitors to Denmark will discover a wealth of cultural activity. The Royal Danish Ballet, specializes in the work of the great Danish choreographer August Bournonville (1805-79). Danish dancers also feature regularly on the U.S. ballet scene, notably Peter Martins as head of New York City Ballet.
The Danish Film Institute, one of the oldest in Scandinavia, offers daily public screenings of Danish and international movies in their original language and plays an active role in the maintenance and restoration of important archival prints. Over the decades, movie directors like Gabriel Axel (Babette's Feast, 1987 Oscar for Best Foreign Film), Bille August (Buster's World, 1984; Pelle the Conqueror, 1988 Oscar for Best Foreign Film; The House of the Spirits, 1993) and Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, 1996; Dancer in the Dark, 2000 Cannes Golden Palm) have all won international acclaim. In addition, Denmark has been involved virtually from the start in development of the "Dogma film" genre, where small, hand-held digital cameras have permitted greater rapport between director and actor and given a documentary film feel to their increasingly realistic works. Besides von Trier's Dogville (2003) starring Nicole Kidman, and The Idiots (1998), The Celebration (1998 Cannes Special Jury prize) by Thomas Vinterberg, Mifune's Last Song (1999 Berlin Silver Bear award) by Soeren Kragh-Jacobsen, and Italian for Beginners (2000 Berlin Silver Bear award) by Lone Scherfig all are prime examples of the Dogma concept.
International collections of modern art enjoy unusually attractive settings at the Louisiana Museum north of Copenhagen, "Arken" south of Copenhagen, and the North Jutland Art Museum in Aalborg. The State Museum of Art and the Glyptotek, both in Copenhagen, contain masterpieces of Danish and international art. Denmark's National Museum building in central Copenhagen harbors most of the state's anthropological and archeological treasures with especially fine prehistoric and Viking Age collections; two of its finest satellite collections are the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde west of the metropolis and the Open Air Museum in a near northern suburb where original buildings have been transported from their original locations around the country and reassembled on plots specially landscaped to evoke the original site. The Museum of Applied Art and Industrial Design in Copenhagen exhibits the best in Danish design. Besides the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Factory, Denmark boasts a second renowned ceramic manufacturer, Bing & Groendahl, which also exports worldwide. The ceramic tradition is carried on by designers such as Bjoern Wiinblad, whose whimsical creations remain as popular today as when they burst on the scene in the 1950s.
Denmark has more than its share of impressive castles, many of which have been converted to museums. Frederiksborg Castle, on a manmade island in a lake north of Copenhagen, was restored after a catastrophic fire in the 1800s and now houses important collections in awe-inspiring splendor amidst impeccably manicured gardens. In Elsinore, Kronborg (or Hamlet's) Castle that once exacted tribute from passing ships now houses important furniture and art collections of the period, while hosting in its courtyard many touring summer productions of Shakespearean works. In Copenhagen, Rosenborg Castle houses the kingdom's crown jewels and boasts spectacular public gardens in the heart of the city.
Among today's Danish writers, probably the best-known to American readers is Peter Hoeg (Smilla's Sense of Snow; Borderliners), while the most prolific is Klaus Rifbjerg--poet, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. Benny Andersen writes poems, short stories, and music. Poems by both writers have been translated into English by the Curbstone Press. Suzanne Broegger focuses on the changing roles of women in society. Kirsten Thorup's "Baby" won the 1980 Pegasus Prize and is printed in English by the University of Louisiana Press. The psychological thrillers of Anders Bodelsen and political thrillers by Leif Davidsen also appear in English.
In music, Hans Abrahamsen and Per Noergaard are the two most famous living composers. Abrahamsen's works have been performed by the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. Other international names are Poul Ruders, Bo Holten, and Karl Aage Rasmussen. Danes such as bass player Niels Henning Oersted Petersen have won broad international recognition, and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival held each year in July has acquired a firm place on the calendar of international jazz enthusiasts.
The Ministry of Cultural Affairs was created in 1961. Cultural life and meaningful leisure time were then and remain subjects of debate by politicians and parliament as well as the general public. The democratization of cultural life promoted by the government's 1960s cultural policy recently has come to terms with the older "genteel culture;" broader concepts of culture now generally accepted include amateur and professional cultural, media, sports, and leisure-time activities.
Denmark's cultural policy is characterized by decentralized funding, program responsibility, and institutions. Danish cultural direction differs from other countries with a Ministry of Culture and a stated policy in that special laws govern each cultural field--e.g., the Theater Act of 1990 (as amended) and the Music Law of 1976 (as amended).
The Ministry of Cultural Affairs includes among its responsibilities international cultural relations; training of librarians and architects; copyright legislation; and subsidies to archives, libraries, museums, literature, music, arts and crafts, theater, and film production. During 1970-82, the Ministry also recognized protest movements and street manifestations as cultural events, because social change was viewed as an important goal of Danish cultural policy. Different governments exercise caution in moderating this policy and practice. Radio and TV broadcasting also fall under the Ministry of Culture.
Government contributions to culture have increased steadily in recent years, but viewed against the new government's firm objective to limit public expenditures, contributions are unlikely to increase in the future. Municipal and county governments assume a relatively large share of the costs for cultural activities in their respective districts. In 2002, government expenditures for culture total 0.3% of GDP. Most support goes to libraries and archives, theater, museums, arts and crafts training, and films.