Sumarliði R. Ísleifsson Within or outside of Europe? Images of Iceland and Greenland in the late 18th Century and during the 19th Century
The discourse on Iceland and Greenland is in many ways similar in the period, but also different. According to many descriptions the Icelanders were the contrast of civilization and modernity, either immoral savages or noble and good. In this discourse of colonialism and modernity the Icelanders resembled mostly other people on the edges of Europe and people outside the continent. During this period discussion on the Icelandic medieval society became increasingly important. This narrative was made understandable by comparing medieval Iceland to ancient Greece. In the course of the 19th century racism became an important symptom in narratives on Iceland. Along with nationalism it was used to “elevate” Iceland and the Icelanders and the Viking-discourse on Iceland was gradually shaped. The discourse on Greenland changed less in the period than was the case with Iceland. As in earlier periods, the images of the country demonstrated both terrible and noble savages. Racism also shaped the discourse on Greenland and had the consequences that Greenland became even more “distant” than before. The discourse on Iceland and Greenland was often similar to the discussion of exotic areas outside Europe. We can call this exoticism borealism, tropicality with the symptoms of the far north. The colonial discourse was thus the “knowledge” that was commonly transferred on Iceland and Greenland. The narratives that here have been discussed were often characterized by ambivalence, doubts about what kind of communities were in these countries. Were the Icelanders savages or civilized, were they Eskimos or Hellenes? And according to the Greenlanders: Were they savages or even animals?
Keywords: dualism; colonialism, utopia/dystopia; racism; borealism