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Monuments to Defeat: Denmark, France, and the International Cult of Lost Causes

Internationalisation Fellowships


My research compares Danish and French commemorations of defeat following the German Wars of Unification (1864-1871) as a means of placing Danish memory politics within an international context. The goal of this project is to create a novel comparative analysis that places Danish monuments to 1864 within the broader practice of commemorating Lost Causes - failed revolutions, ceded territories, and lost battles - whose veneration in nationalist memory politics set the stage for WWI. The development of the international cult of Lost Causes and Denmark's position within it can be understood through the co-sharing of symbols of defeat in late-nineteenth century monuments, which my research highlights through the study of Antonin Mercié's Gloria Victis (c. 1873), or "Glory to the Vanquished."


The study of societal memory of difficult heritage has become an important meeting-point for interdisciplinary research in Europe. While Denmark has been an important contributor to the field of memory studies on both a local and international level, the Danish experience of the loss of 1864 remains largely absent from international discourse on the memory of 19th-century global conflicts. My project takes the unique position of studying nationalist memories of defeat within the context of international commemorative trends and Lost Cause ideologies in order to amplify the visibility of Danish research and to understand Danish commemorative practices within a larger network of European memory.


By the end of this project in 2023, the outcome will be both the publication of a new book on a previously unpublished topic, as well as the development of a Danish-French research network pioneering new research on global representations of defeat. In France, I will be hosted by University Paris Nanterre's research unit, History of Arts and Representations (HAR). Book research will be archival, using resources from the National Institute of Art History (INHA) in tangent with local municipal records from the places where these monuments are located. The project will finalize with an international virtual seminar series led by the Danish-French network.


The manipulation of cultural memory for political purposes is an increasingly dangerous problem today, especially within populist governments in Europe and the Americas. The erasure of monuments, government hijackings of museums and universities for the espousal of "new historical truths," and the use of state-sanctioned violence in the name of protecting cultural heritage, are all signs of the extinguishing of traditional humanistic values in the West. As in the past, the rise of illiberal and nativist political forces today depends upon the Lost Cause ethos of victimization and the desire to return to an idyllic past. If the way a society views the past is a mirror onto the present, then the study of the commemorative trends leading up to the First World War, as signs of the real horrors to come, might serve as a warning of what dangers global society faces today.