Enchanted Identities: Symbols, Rituals and Feelings around the Baltic Sea, 1860-1950

Field: Historia, genusvetenskap, medie- och kommunikationsvetenskap
Project leader: Tom Olsson
Starting year: 2006
Project type: Project

This project problematises and explores the questions of culture, ethnicity and identity in the Baltic Sea area between 1860 and 1950. The approach is interdisciplinary, combining history, gender, religion, and media studies. The focus is on the emotional and ritualistic aspects of identity construction.

According to Max Weber’s classical analysis, modern times are characterized by a tendency towards ”disenchantment”. But the era and world described by Weber were simultaneously hotbeds of strong emotions: the hope and anger of revolutionaries, the passionate fight for women’s rights, the aggressive jingoism of nationalists and the religious flare-up of revivalism. Modern human identities are not only – or even primarily – characterized by rationality. They are also rooted in the irrational, magical, and enchanted. In short, we argue that the modern world was, and remains, as much enchanted as disenchanted. This is, in fact, the focus of the project “enchanted identities”. Four sub-projects each use case studies from the Baltic Sea region to look at how identities are “enchanted” – through ritual, festival and spectacle; and through feelings and bodies.

We are interested, of course, in symbols and discourse; but we are also intrigued by the structures of feelings that are integral to identity expression and formation, and which should be found in festivals, rituals, symbols, gestures, clothing, discourse and public myths. These expressions, recoverable through letters, diaries, photographs, newspapers, posters, literature and interviews, constitute the source-material for our studies.

When finished, the project researcher should be able to present linked case studies which will demonstrate the role of emotions in “enchanting” identities – that is, investing certain identities with magic, force and charm, the “allure” that has encouraged people to live, work, die and kill for their identities around the Baltic Sea.