Coastal and maritime Norway

Freehold farmers and coastal women
Memories and stories from the past are an important part of reality in most cultures. There are many reasons why this is so, but a widespread explanation for the significance of historical documentation in the form of memories and cultural monuments in a broad sense is that such knowledge helps us to understand the world we live in and to define who we are.

Our historical background constitutes an important and essential part of our identity. But is there anything now that is “typically Norwegian”? Can we speak of a shared Norwegian identity, a distinctive characteristic that separates Norwegians from all other nations and ethnic groups? The answer is both yes and no. A society consists of many cultures, and cultures – and societies – are constantly changing. Those parts of the past we choose to identify ourselves with are reflected in what we choose to preserve and in which histories we choose to tell about our own origins.

A major theme in the writing of Norwegian history has been the development from the "great age" of the Vikings through the economic and political collapse caused by the Black Death to the modern period when the country "slowly became our own" again. During the struggle for Norwegian independence at the end of the 19th century, a historical line was drawn directly from the clan society of Viking times through to the farmers’ society of the day. The freehold farmer, with a preemptive right to inherit the family farm and property, became the hero in the contemporary national romantic story of culture and identity in Norway.

This story was in many ways both correct and significant for its time. But today it seems somewhat strange that there should have been so much focus on agriculture and the boy heir to the farm and so little attention paid to the young sailor or young fisher. After all these were the years when Norway became one of the world’s leading seafaring and fishing countries and when considerable technological advances in ocean fisheries occurred.

We would argue that it is impossible to understand the development of Norwegian culture and society without taking into consideration the central role played by maritime economic activities. This is true for the understanding of both how Norway differs from other European countries and what connects Norway and Norwegians to the rest of the world throughout history. From this perspective it is off track to set peasant culture against coastal culture or seafaring culture. To understand Norwegian culture and lifestyle we must look at the interplay between these different ways of living. Thus we must begin by examining the possibilities and limitations that nature and natural resources have set for the people in this country, especially along its coast.

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