Historisk Tidsskrift
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The Creation of an Association
Christian Molbech and the Founding of the Danish Historical Association

(90:1, 23-24)

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The Danish Historical Association was founded at a meeting held on 14 February 1839, the result of efforts initiated by the historian, philologist and librarian Christian Molbech (1783-1857). The present article deals with Molbech's role in founding the Association as well as its earliest development while he served as its secretary and the editor of its journal Historisk Tidsskrift (1839-53). The article deals, among other things, with the way in which Molbech took the initiative in founding the Association, the type of members he sought to recruit, and the Association's significance in the development of a history-conscious milieu in Denmark. 

There were in Denmark prior to the Association a number of learned societies with historical and antiquarian aims, but their membership was narrow, and they led a moribund existence. Molbech wanted the new Association to serve as a national focus, a centre for all those interested in history and historical research. It's members were to be sought among the better educated public, the group that already dominated the associations of his time. With his many contacts within Copenhagen's higher social and scholarly circles, Molbech had the best conceivable prerequisites for soliciting desirable members. The core membership was thus recruited from his own private and professional circles. At the end of its first year, the Association numbered 565 members, 40 per cent of them residents of Copenhagen. Most of the members in the capital and provincial urban centres were civil servants or members of the liberal professions. Membership in the rural areas was dominated by the clergy, while the others were almost exclusively great landowners or manorial officials. By using a communication network of personal contacts, the Association acquired the type of members that Molbech wanted, and it was by very conscious design that publicity played only a minor role in establishing the membership. Although the Association gained a larger membership than previous learned societies, it remained predominantly academic, and its social basis was a fine-meshed network within the better educated bourgeoisie. 

The study turns then to the questions of the Danish Historical Association's relation to the political public and the circles interested in history. The Association was founded at a time when political associations were just beginning in Denmark. In the course of the 1840s the »spirit of association« became increasingly identified with the liberalist and nationalist currents which were then just emerging, but Molbech stayed aloof of liberalism and the political manifestations of the »spirit of association.« Although the Association as such steered clear of the direct impact of political trends while Molbech served as its secretary and editor of its journal, it attracted to its membership the leading Danish exponents of conservatism, while the young generation of liberal leaders, for their part, kept away from it. None the less, as far as historical research and its dissemination were concerned, the Association succeeded in mobilizing whatever potential existed in Denmark at the time. As yet, history was not a specialized scientific discipline and there was no system of professional training on which it could rely. The Association exhibited therefore a broad academic profile, and contributors to Historisk Tidsskrift included clergymen, lawyers and physicians. The Association was, indeed, representative of the history-interested milieu in Denmark during the period prior to the establishment of history as a professionalized scientific discipline in the decade following 1880. 

The study closes with an assessment of Christian Molbech's work as initiator and secretary of the Association and as editor of Historisk Tidsskrift. He is seen as the prototype of the »association men« of his times, the men who, in establishing associations, succeeded in tapping the great organizational potential of the bourgeoisie. 

Translated by Michael Wolfe