1.1 Introduction

Anne Sørensen, Christian Pletzing, Janet Laidla

Michael North begins his history of the Baltic by saying that the area “has always been a region of exchange and encounter.”1) Caroline Boggis-Rolfe makes an interesting note in her recent The Baltic Story comparing the history of the region with the Baltic Sea itself - at times very (even deceptively) calm and then then suddenly hit by a violent storm. The present book is about both the calms and the storms beginning (like North and Boggis-Rolfe) from the time of Vikings and reaching the 20th century, but instead of a narrative story of the Baltic, we present a collection of sources and views of very different sub-themes.

In 2009, the idea of a project that illustrates the history of the Baltic Sea Region from a transnational perspective was born in Schleswig-Holstein. The Academia Baltica (Lübeck/Sankelmark) succeeded in acquiring project funds from the European Commission's "Culture" programme for the conception phase and the development of a pilot module "Cultural Perspectives" of the Baltic Sea History Project. The core of the project is the conception of a virtual platform for the history of the Baltic Sea region. From 2012 to 2014, 14 partners from science, education and culture in the Baltic Sea region worked on the project. Its intention was to show that the history of the Baltic Sea Region is more than the history of the nation states on the Baltic Sea. At the same time, the Baltic Sea History Project also wanted to present different points of view and perspectives on the common history of the region.

In 2017, the project partners succeeded in obtaining further funding for the continuation of the Baltic Sea History Project. The project is supported by the Academia Baltica, the partners being the Lübeck University of Applied Sciences, Szczecin University, Borussia Foundation in Olsztyn, Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, the University of Latvia in Riga, University of Tartu, Tallinn City Archives, Linnaeus University of Växjö and Kalmar, and Aarhus University. The new project follows on from the project funded by the EU in 2012-14. The aim is to present the history of the Baltic Sea region from multiple perspectives and thereby stimulate understanding for different perceptions of history in the various countries bordering the Baltic Sea. In addition, the history of the Baltic Sea region is to be made usable for adult education. This is to be achieved by means of teaching materials, an online tutorial and an online platform.

The notion of multi-perspectivity is based on the general insight that individuals as well as social groups remember certain incidents and developments differently, and those memories and their manifestations also change over time. This, however, does not make it acceptable to manipulate and falsify historical evidence for political, monetary or personal needs.

Multi-perspectivity in history teaching is connected to intentions to overcome nationalist, religious and/or cultural enmities. A multi-perspective approach reflects that history is not based on one authoritative master narrative, but rather constitutes itself through dialogue between diverging narratives. Through implementing different perspectives, history education attempts to not only describe historical events, but also to make the significance of these events and their effects on people visible. Multi-perspectivity is established by presenting not just one view of an event (or artefact, person, place etc.), but several. These other perspectives can originate from persons in history, science, society, politics, from minorities or oppressed people. They highlight different meanings of historical events depending on gender, age, or cultural background. These perspectives can come from both one’s own country and from other countries. Thus, multi-perspectivity is a holistic approach attempting to view and understand historical events through the versatility of perspectives in a larger context.

Multi-perspectivity also has the potential to show that historical events – and the interpretations of them - are always human actions. Every historical event is based on decisions made by people relying on their information. Therefore, the quality of the decision depends on the quality of the information. Decisions and interpretations are also based on convictions, perhaps also on wishes or fears. Multi-perspectivity, thus, does not mean the necessity to give up one’s own perspective – but rather the need to understand that there are different perspectives. Importantly, however, multi-perspectivity does not imply the acceptance of so-called alternative facts that are not backed by sources and academic arguments.

Multi-perspectivity in the Baltic Sea area

The history of the Baltic Sea region is rich with examples of different perspectives on historical events that have had and continue to have varying impact on the different sides that have experienced them. The multi-layered character of national histories in the Baltic Sea Area can be used as a material basis for the development of multi-perspective approaches by transcending national and/or mono-cultural points of view. Those different perspectives are not expressed solely in form of written history, but also in changed street names, transferred monuments and individual life stories.

There is no single perspective that would satisfy every possible perception of Baltic Sea History. In general, it goes without saying that multiple national perspectives within the region reveal fundamental differences in the understanding of modern societies and states as well as in the reflections on history especially in the 20th century. These differences provide additional arguments, why the application of a historical multi-perspectivity seems to be particularly fruitful here, thereby broadening the individual understanding of history as such and of the contemporary differences in the region.

Wars and conflicts have been predominant features in the Baltic Sea region for centuries. Multi-perspectivity has proven to be an important approach in overcoming national conflicts. In a post-conflict perspective, the intention to remove hostile stereotypes of the national others and to introduce knowledge about the neighbours and former enemies as well as their perspectives on history is important. Such an approach can be a major contribution towards reconciliation. This task is not limited to governments and official bodies but also include various activities among private persons and organizations of the civil society. The overcoming of national antagonisms, however, has not always been successful.

How to use this book

This book is a collection of study materials that accompany the Baltic Sea History MOOC course but can also be used separately. Each chapter has introductory text or texts, different examples of sources or views, questions for reflection and discussion and a short list for further reading. Considering that this book is directed to larger audiences we have endeavoured to give longer introductory background texts especially for the earlier periods. However, since we could not cover all of the history of the Baltic Sea area in this book, lists of further reading are added.

As there are different perspectives on historical events, there are also different ways of writing about them. Thus, we have allowed our authors freedom to choose the exact structure of the chapter as well as the number and type of sources they chose to present. There are longer presentations about different events, monuments and periods, but also shorter excursions to some less-known events or monuments.

The sources are often translated by authors themselves and although we are clearly aware that the choices of words in translation are also dependent on the perspective of the translator, we have tried to be true to the original but also edited the texts so they are easier to follow for non-native English-speakers. Thus, one of the tasks provided by the teachers could be to compare the translated sources with those in students’ native language to spot any subtle differences.

Unquestionably, the complexity of understanding a historical event increases with the inclusion of further perspectives. And so the question is how to present an event from different perspectives without overwhelming learners. The relevance of multi-perspectivity can be illustrated by a good example which preferably is somehow connected to the learners. The goal is to make the learners understand why it is worth the greater effort. Multi-perspectivity can then be implemented by a selection of additional perspectives which are discussed in depth. Those selected perspectives should provide important additional information on the historical event. In addition, material can be provided on further perspectives that interested learners read on a voluntary basis. Alternatively, teacher may give an assignment to pick one perspective, work through it and present it in the following class meeting or prepare a presentation, video etc. and make it available on a learning platform. In the latter case, other learners are required to go over the student material on the platform in advance and discuss perspectives presented there it in depth during the following class meeting (flipped classroom). The preparation of the sources can follow questions: who, what, when, where, why. It is important not only to present the perspectives, but also to discuss them and to reflect on own understanding of the event so far and what has changed with additional perspectives.

In order to enrich the spectrum of perspectives, learners may be asked to attempt to produce sources of historically silent groups, such as slaves, peasants or workers. These groups have often had no opportunity to record their thoughts and views, so there are few sources. By putting oneself into the role of one of these groups and generating a source (e.g., a diary entry), learners engage with the group. This can cause initial irritation but can also produce empathy and contribute to the greater understanding of learning. Obviously, multi-perspectivity may be realized in several different ways. Each implementation, however, has the same goal: the insight that, in addition to the mainstream narrative, there is another viewpoint or maybe even more than one. We hope you will find this book useful and the discussions on different perspectives as insightful, enriching and interesting as our team of authors have found the process of preparation.

Further reading

  1. A. Palmer. Northern Shores. A History of the Baltic Sea and Its Peoples. London, John Murray, 2005.
  2. Michael North. The Baltic. A History. London, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2015. Originally: Geschichte der Ostsee. C. H. Beck, 2011.
  3. Caroline Boggis-Rolfe. The Baltic Story. A Thousand-year History of Its Lands, Sea and Peoples. Gloucestershire, Amberly Publishing, 2019.

MOOC course: https://www.oncampus.de/weiterbildung/moocs/baltic_sea_history?lang=en
Online platform: http://balticseahistory.info/

1) Michael North. The Baltic. A History. London, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 2015. P 1.