Professor Bernd Henningsen talks about his new textbook
In his comprehensive handbook “Nordeuropa: Handbuch für Wissenschaft und Studium”, Prof. em. Dr Bernd Henningsen takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the history, society, politics, economy and culture of the European North. In doing so, he emphasises the often overlooked but crucial role of this region in European history. In an exclusive interview, the editor talks about the surprising discoveries made while compiling the handbook, the challenges of research and how the work can help to close gaps in knowledge.
Mr Henningsen, your handbook on Northern Europe sheds light on the often underestimated role that the politics, culture and people of Northern Europe have played in pan-European history. What key aspects or insights have particularly surprised or fascinated you in compiling the handbook?
At the end of the day, looking at the (handbook) knowledge we have accumulated about Northern Europe, I was fascinated by the consensus that exists among the authors – regardless of their national or professional context – that “North” is no longer to be equated with “Bullerbü” and “Hygge” without question, that this region is also characterised by realities that are also our realities, both political and cultural; there is no exceptionalism to lament or idealise. However, public perception is still lagging behind here. Perhaps the handbook can help to overcome this discrepancy. Secondly, I was surprised that there has been no attempt to produce a comprehensive and well-founded overview of knowledge about the region in the north either – after all, people in the north believe in what is regionally special, and occasionally also in a mission that they have. And thirdly, I was pleased to receive confirmation that the North cannot be understood historically and culturally without Europe, but that Europe would also be poorer without the North. This fact is often overlooked in the North.
The Northern Europe Handbook emphasises the need to close the gaps in academic research into this region. What challenges do you see in promoting a comprehensive understanding of the history, society, politics, economy and culture of the European North and how can this handbook help to close these gaps?
The handbook should arouse interest, it should provide initial information on the fields of knowledge mentioned, it should be used to create pressure and it should arouse curiosity to fill gaps in knowledge. The last two hundred years have seen an intensive (and at times ideologically driven) preoccupation with the literatures and languages of the North. But the European North has more to offer, is more comprehensive – as anyone who appreciates nature, who is concerned with energy issues, who appreciates music and film alongside literature, who knows science in the North, who follows technological developments, who also has an eye for political deculturation knows. More broad-based, above all institutionalised analysis and research in these fields by universities and non-university institutions would be desirable.
With the participation of 84 experts from different countries, your handbook offers a broad perspective on Northern Europe. How did you ensure that it adequately represents the diversity of the region while providing a coherent and comprehensive picture of the topic?
After a career-long involvement with the North and the associated collaborations with academics, including representatives from politics, research visits there, you not only know the research strengths, the fields that have been worked on, but you also know the gaps and the blank spots of knowledge, the desiderata for analysis. The contacts with colleagues were helpful, and many of them kindly provided advice in the search for topics and the localisation of expertise.