Nordic Exceptionalism: Perspectives from the Outside (NEPO)

This project examines the concept of ‘Nordic exceptionalism’, which is globally recognised and often mentioned in cultural and political discussion around the world. However, it is not a modern concept that only reflects an economic model that emerged post-WW2. The project explores how ideas of Nordic exceptionalism have developed from the 18th century.

This project examines the early history of ‘Nordic exceptionalism’. As a concept, this is globally recognised and often mentioned in cultural and political discussion around the world. We propose two avenues of enquiry to unfold the history of the concept from 18th century to the beginning of the twentieth: 1. An analysis of how the Nordic countries were represented by outside perspectives.  An analysis of these non-Nordic perspectives will show how diverse interpretations – positive as well as negative – competed for dominance in Europe and beyond. 2. An examination of how the Nordic countries (re)presented themselves to international audiences, often in response to outside perspectives, both independently of and in response to these outside perspectives.


The aim of the project is to explore how ideas of Nordic exceptionalism have developed since the eighteenth century. We will do this through a novel, empirically-based examination ranging from the period of the outbreak of the Great Northern War in 1700 to the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905.

Central questions

  1. What did travellers or outside observers identify as peculiarly Nordic?
  2. How did publications in English, German, French, etc., by Nordic writers seek to shape a master narrative about the Nordics
  3. Is it possible to trace a direct line from historical perceptions to modern concepts of ‘Nordic exceptionalism’?

In answering these questions, we depart from the standard approach to the study of Nordic identity, which is to look at how an identity was formed primarily as self-representation (auto-stereotype). Our workshop discussion will examine the discursive archive that formed outside of the Nordics – and how this archive, in turn, influenced a conscious decision from inside the Nordic countries to deliberately seek to influence the perception of the Nordic countries on the international scene (feedback loop).



Principal Investigators

  • Robert W. Rix, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Merethe Roos, University of South-Eastern Norway, Norway
  • Cian Duffy, University of Lund, Sweden
  • Eva-Lena Bergström, Nationalmuseum, Sweden



The project will organise three workshops during the two-year project period.

  1. University of Copenhagen, Denmark. 10/5–11/5 2023. Theme: Social Trust and Key Concepts of Nordic Exceptionalism
  2. University of Lund, Sweden. 31/01 - 01/02 2024. Theme: Representing the North – Progressive or Backward Societies?
  3. University of South-Eastern Norway (Drammen), 24/09 -25/09 2024. Norway Theme: Window to the World: International Influences and Nordic Responses.

Should you be interested in participating, please contact Robert William Rix




Name Title Phone E-mail
Boisen, Jørn Associate Professor +4535328406 E-mail
Møller, Jes Fabricius Associate Professor +4535335336 E-mail
Rix, Robert William Associate Professor - Promotion Programme +4535328170 E-mail
Sandberg, Anna Lena Associate Professor - Promotion Programme +4535328156 E-mail


Armstrong, Charles 
University of Agder Norway 
Bergström, Eva-Lena  Nationalmuseum Sweden
Duffy, Cian  Lund University  Sweden
Falke, Cassandra UiT - the Arctic University of Norway  Norway 
Gullestad, Anders  University of Bergen Norway 
Henrikson, Paula  University of Uppsala  Sweden
Joiner, Jorunn  Lund University Sweden
Kielmann, Jules Uppsala University Sweden
Komnæs, Mari  Lund University Sweden
Laulund, Marie  Museum at Jægerspris Slot Denmark
Mansén, Elisabeth  Stockholm University Sweden
Møller, Lis 
Aarhus University Denmark
Roos, Merethe University of South-Eastern Norway Norway
Rosengren, Cecilia  University of Gothenburg Sweden
Sandberg, Kristian 
Høgskolen i Innlandet Norway
Svendsen, Gert 
Aarhus University Denmark
Volder, Stephanie 
Aarhus University Denmark
Wadsö-Lecaros, Cecilia 
Lund University Sweden