History and WEB in Sweden


by Johan Jarlbrink

The nationalistic historicism of 19th century Sweden came to an end with the rise of the Social Democrats in the 1920s and 30s and leading politicians seldom referred to history in their speeches. They generally talked about the future, not the past. One important exception was perhaps the Social Democrats writing their own history of progress. Swedes in general, however, were often regarded as ignorant and not interested in historical matters. “Historylessness” was the word used to characterize the spirit of the time.1 Since the early 1990s however, there has been a new interest in history. Historical matters became part of the public debate again. Sweden’s dubious role during WWII and forced sterilizations of “unwanted” groups in the Swedish welfare state became important topics in the debate. The 1990s also witnessed a growing interest in popular history more generally.2 The historian Peter Englund published his bestseller Poltava already in 1988 (sold in about 300,000 copies). The journalist Herman Lindqvist made a range of successful TV series on Swedish history (1991–2002) and published an 11 volume book series based on the programs. The series Sveriges historia (12 episodes, 2010–2011) was produces in collaboration between the commercial TV station TV4 and the publisher Norstedts, engaged in publishing an academic book series with the same name. The editor of the book series, Professor Dick Harrison at Lund University, was also the host of the TV show, together with carpenter, comedian and TV host Martin Timell, known from numerous total-makeover programs. A huge amount of biographies and translated books have been published, several of them distributed through the historical book club Clio. The novels about the viking/Templar Arn (1998–2001) were written by Jan Guillou and were adapted for the screen 2007–2008. Guillou’s new project is to cover the 20th century through the history of one family, three novels are published so far. Magazines such as Populär Historia (1991–), Allt om historia (2005–) and Världens Historia (2005–) are part of the same trend.3 Företagsminnen (1997–), Militär Historia (2009–), and Teknikhistoria (2010–) are devoted to more specific areas, industry, military, and technology. This specialisation is also visible in the successful TV show Historieätarna (2012–), the Swedish version of the BBC show The Supersizers, on food history and everyday life. This revival of history have inspired many Swedes to research their own family history, guided perhaps by the many TV and radio shows on the topic.

An early Swedish internet site on history which is still in use is skalman.nu, started in 1994 and with a forum in operation since 1999. The forum has 8,000 members and 40,000 threads about everything from prehistorical time to the present. Another site, Historiska världar, was started by The Swedish History Museum in Stockholm in 2000 and became independent in 2012. This forum with 6,000 members and 7,000 threads is devoted to re-enactment and most of the topics discussed deals with practical matters on how to make “authentic” clothes and weapons et cetera.4

The most popular online forum in Sweden is flashback.org. The forum has its roots in an anarchistic fanzine started already in 1983. In 1995 it became a web site and since 2000 it has a forum attached to it. In March 2014 it had over 845,000 members – almost one Swede out of ten! – and 45 million posts. Flashback’s slogan is “Free speech – for real” and over the years it has attracted many right wing extremists, complaining about the allegedly leftist mainstream media hiding the truth about criminal immigrants and the dangers of Islam. In recent years this has changed. Racists are still there, but because of its popularity the forum is now more diverse. Every thinkable topic is discussed, from gardening, drugs, type fonts and prostitution, to pets, gossip, sports and politics – and history. Under the overarching label “History” there are about 7000 threads and 145,000 posts, dealing with everything from the Cretaceous to the present.

Youtube.com is another site where debates on history take place. Most of the TV series mentioned above could be seen here and some of the books could be listened to as audio books. It is not that easy to get an overview on this site, but some of the videos are found if the user searches for “Sveriges historia” or “Den svenska historien”. The comments are not as many as on skalman.nu or flashback.org (often between ten and fifty on a single video), but some discussions are interesting since they comment upon and often criticise the way history is presented and interpreted by the TV producers.

In the following I will focus on discussions on skalman.nu, flashback.org and youtube.com. Because of the many threads and posts it is not possible to analyse everything. I have selected the most popular history threads on every site. On skalman.nu the forum is divided according to the historical period being discussed (nine periods from prehistorical time to the post-cold war era). The threads under each period have been sorted after “most posted” and I have read at least the ten highest ranked threads for each period. This sorting tool is not available on flashback.org. Instead I have tried to find the fifty most posted threads among the first thousand that are shown under the label “History”. Topics on European identity are discussed on skalman.nu as well as on flashback.org. They do not however belong to the most popular threads. Therefore I have tried to find some of these by searching for “Europe”, “EU” and “identity”. On youtube.com I have selected all of the videos with the TV series made by Herman Lindqvist, and the more recent Sveriges Historia.

What is referred to as “posts” in the text could mean anything from a single word or a sentence to a short essay. Short comments and long developed statements often follow one another in the same thread. An individual user sometimes starts with a long post, and follows up with several short ones. If the discussions are intense the posters often tries win the argument using dozens of quotes from books, newspapers and other posters. Or simply state that the other posters are idiots. To use the word “posts” is perhaps not the best way to capture all this variety. But it is hard to avoid the term since it is used all the time by the posters themselves. And counting posts is the only way to “measure” the popularity of the topics that are discussed.

Who is posting?

It is difficult to say anything specific about the users engaged in historical debates on the three web sites. Perhaps the avatars could reveal something about them, not their true identity, but maybe the character of their historical interest. Images and symbols such as flags, cartoon figures, kings, politicians, and military leaders are frequent among the posters. Especially the avatars on skalan.nu are historically related. Kings and other historically prominent characters are common, as well as coats of arms, longboats from the Viking era, tanks, submarines, and so on. However, to determine the true identity of the users from their avatars could be problematic. One user on skalman.nu is known to be of Sami origin and he or she often writes about Sami history and culture. When asked about the origin of the Sami people and their affinity with other ethnic groups he or she states that “My Sami ancestors were not Asians, I am no Asian”. This person, who is not Asian, uses Djinghis Kahn as an avatar.5

Internet use in Sweden is widespread in most age groups. According to statistics from 2012 89 per cent of the Swedes have access to Internet in their homes, and 71 per cent use the Internet daily. The most frequent users are found in the age groups ranging from 12 to 54. Men are more active than women, especially the younger ones. When it comes to posting on forums the users are even more diverse. 47 per cent of the users aged 12 to 20 say they post on forums regularly, and 46 per cent of the users aged 21 to 35. The figures for the groups aged 35-65 and 66+ are 25 and 10 per cent, respectively.6 The users who are active on skalman.nu, flashback.org and youtube.com are presumably in the same age as forum posters in general. Many of them are probably young, in their 20s or 30s, but some of them have been active for more than 10 years and they could be some years older (the year when each user became a member is shown beneath the avatar on skalman.nu and flashback.org).

Flashback.org and youtube.com shows a great variety of topics and the users active on these forums are probably more heterogeneous compared to the users on skalman.nu. Skalman.nu seems to attract users who have a special interest in history, and some users are obviously more than forum posters. One thread is devoted to books written by forum members. WWII and military history dominates, but books about Vikings, beer and food history, local history and novels are also mentioned.

Topics and historical periods

The threads with most posts on flashback.org and skalman.nu concerns books that the members recommends, films, travel destinations and quizzes. Top lists and polls are frequent on flashback.org. Among the most popular we find “Most evil person in history”, “Most unsuccessful Swedish king”, “Who would you like to erase from history?” and “Are you related to a well-known historical person?”. The posts in these threads are often a mixture of serious answers and comical or ridiculous ones. The question about whom to erase from history is answered with “Hitler and Justin Bieber”. In some posts the racist and extreme right tradition of flashback.org is still visible. One thread about “Inventions by black people” develops into a discussion on racial differences. Not all of the posts are racist, but many. The historical periods discussed on flashback.org stretches from prehistoric time to the present, with a dominance of 20th century topics and WWII. One of the most posted threads is called “It is 1940, you are asked to give Hitler 5 tips to win the war”. Sweden’s role in the war is discussed in several threads as well. Other popular topics concern the ethnic groups of the Balkans and the difference between Syrians and Assyrians. Threads such as “Bosniaks – origin?”, “Syrians – Assyrians”, “Illyrians – Albanians”, “Alexander the Great was of Albanian origin”, and “Who does Kosovo belong to?” has often more than 500 posts, sometimes as many as 1,300. Many of the users active in these threads are obviously Swedes with a background in the geographical regions they discuss.

The threads on skalman.nu are divided into historical periods by the site’s administrators. This makes it easy to get an overview and makes it evident that some periods are more popular than others:




Prehistory, early civilisations and antiquity (8000 BC to 476)



Nordic antiquity & the Viking age



Middle ages (476 to 1523)



Early modern era (1523 to 1789)



The age of revolutions and empires (1789 to 1913)



WWI and the interwar period (1914 to 1932)



WWII and its run-up (1933 to 1945)



The cold war (1946 to 1991)



The world after the cold war (1992 to now)



(skalman.nu, March 16 2014)

The threads under prehistory and early civilisations most often deal with “international” topics such as the Neanderthals, gladiators, the historical Jesus, and life during the Stone Age. From then on and up till the early modern era it is Swedish and Nordic history that dominates. Among the popular threads we find “Where did the Danish Vikings come from?”, “The Sami people was NOT the first Swedes!”, “The state of Sweden”, and “Mistakes made by Charles XII”. After 1789 history turns international again, although Sweden’s connections to other nations and events are frequently debated. Threads such as “Swedish volunteers in the Spanish civil war”, “Sweden acted cowardly during WWII… and so did USA”, and “Ancestors in WWII” are among the most posted. Threads on wars, kings and the origin of different ethnic groups appear to be the most popular ones. Compared to the members of flashback.org the members of skalman.nu seem to be more serious and the posts are generally longer. Many of the members show detailed knowledge, especially in military history, but they are also familiar with perspectives and theories in academic history. A thread on “The so called ‘Battle of Gestilren’” develops into a discussion on the bows and arrows that were used (or not used). Posts in the threads on the origins of Danish Vikings and the Swedish state criticise the very notion of nations and nationalities. Posts on “Hitler and Justin Bieber” are not common in this forum.

The TV series on history available on youtube.com are quite popular among the viewers, but the comments are in most cases few. The different videos got 5,000 to 40,000 views and most popular are the ones on the Swedish kings once celebrated as heroes during the historicism of the 19th and early 20th century: Gustavus I, Gustavus Adolphus (the Great), and Charles XII. The comments are often on the kings themselves or on the depiction of them in the programs: “Charles XII is my favourite Swedish king. I like this part of our history.” Programs by the journalist Herman Lindqvist are often popular among the commenting users. His voice and narrating style is said to make him “The Morgan Freeman of Sweden” and some commentators write that they have seen his videos over and over again. Academic historians are often very critical towards Lindqvist’s version of the Swedish history, but his traditional way of presenting history appeals to many viewers: “Herman is the best storyteller ever”, “It is this that makes you a NATIONALIST”. The programs by the academic historian Dick Harrison and the carpenter Martin Timell, Sveriges historia, get much more negative response. “This is a typical way to blacken Gustavus I, only his negative sides are shown and he is compared to Hitler and Stalin […]. They skip or hasten by the fantastic things he did for Sweden. It’s sad they continue with this hate towards Sweden in their depiction of our history, they make it sound like we were worse than all other people and should be ashamed. Fuck that!”7 In another comment the same show is called “cultural-Marxist propaganda”. Viewers who enjoy the series often express themselves in short statements such as “Really good”, or “Interesting”, but some of them also develop their opinion in reaction to the critics: “The old romantic image of the (heroic) kings was at least as biased if not more, the kings were almost canonized as saints. This program shows them as humans with failings, for better or worse.”8

The many threads and posts on WWII is perhaps surprising to a non-Swede, since Sweden did not take part in military action. But the importance of the topic online follows much the same pattern as the coverage in popular magazines, such as Populär Historia, where WWII is an extensive category.9 One explanation could be that WWII is part of a global mediascape, with films such as Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Der Untergang (2004), TV drama as Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010), and books like Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad (1998). With global media discussions on history online becomes less national.

What is history used for?

Many of the threads on skalman.nu deal with history for its own sake. In the many discussions on historical battles for example the users try to get to the facts and uncover the true event, “what really happened”. Discussions on flashback.org and youtube.com, but sometimes also on skalman.nu, are clearly embedded in political discourses of the 21st century. History is used to prove something or to legitimize, to make oneself proud or as a reason to hate – or as a way to deconstruct what is taken for granted.

On the traditionally extreme right and nationalistic forum flashback.org these tendencies are shown in many threads, not least in “Shouldn’t Africa be the richest and most powerful [continent]?” Humans have lived in Africa longer than on any other continent, why is it not the most developed continent? Some posters mention that it could have something to do with a history of slavery and colonialism. Others make sure that “negroes” were not forces to develop to survive in the climate and nature, and that is why they are not part of “the modern human race”. When one poster explains the highly developed Germanic cultures by pointing at the harsh climate in northern Europe, another poster objects and writes that the early high cultures developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt where the climate is “pleasant”. Yet another poster agrees and writes that the Middle East and Egypt were “world leading” – until Islam came.10 The continued discussion in 142 posts makes it clear that it is not so much history that is discussed as the political questions of today: Immigration and the multicultural society, among other things. The discussion on “Inventions by black people” and the many threads on Hitler follow much the same pattern. At first glance the threads on “Myths about the Vikings” and “How primitive were the Vikings?” seems to question the myths about heroic Vikings created during the romanticism of the 1800s. Instead it turns out that most of the posts question today’s criticism of those myths. As in this post:

There are many myths and many people try to paint a corrupt image of them in light of today’s political situation where teachers and left-wings try to create a distance between the Swedes of today and their origin. This is OK because the law doesn’t prohibit anti-Swedishness and ordinary Swedish Swedes aren’t protected by the anti-discrimination law. The Vikings are and remain the people who made houses and keys when other primitive cultures sat grunting in caves and dugouts. [—] The myth my communist teachers tried to teach us kids back then was that they sat around a washbowl and washed themselves in the same bowl and spitted and blew their noses the last thing they did so that the last one in line had to wash himself in a bowl of dirt. According to the communist teachers they only did it once a year because they only had a wash once every year. My question to those who know the details you can’t find in archaeological excavations is: Were you there?11

The many threads on the Balkans and the differences between Syrians and Assyrians go in much the same direction. History is used to prove the true owner of a piece of land, or the right to call heroic figures or people their ancestors. Sometimes it is pride and happiness that dominates though. A thread on “Pyramids found in Bosnia Herzegovina?” on skalman.nu starts with a short news item in 2005 telling about archaeological findings of what was believed to be remains of a pyramid. True or not, some users immediately started posting about the importance of the findings: “Oh my God, I am Bosnian myself, I still can’t digest it, that my beloved little Bosnia got pyramids [—] I pray to God there is a pyramid there, it would mean so much to Bosnia and all of Europe.”12 The thread continued for seven years with over 1,100 posts. Most users eventually agreed that the pyramid was a hoax, but from the beginning there was a hope for a glorious past.

Debates on the Balkans and the ethnic groups in the region are often much more intense than the thread on the pyramid suggests. On flashback.org we find threads such as “Josip Broz Tito, hero or crook?”, “Did the Albanians wipe out the Illyrians?”, “Historical Macedonia”, “Bosnians and Croatians are the true Illyrians”, and “Illyrians – great heroic warriors or a people of dwarfs?”. Threads on these topics are among the most popular within the whole historical section. Are there any significant differences between the groups, and which group has the right to claim a specific piece of land? One answer could sound like this: “Bosnians and Croatians are Illyrians from northern Balkan. It is our heritage and our blood and our beloved home. Greek-Albanians will NEVER get northern Balkan.”13 In the same way as the threads on the Sami people in northern Scandinavia, many of these discussions end up in popular genetics. It is obviously Swedes with some connections to the region that are engaged in most of these debates, but sometimes the threads are also used by others just to express their racism and prejudices. The question whether Alexander the Great was Albanian or not is answered in this way by one of the posters: “I can’t understand why anyone doubts that Alexander the Great was of Albanian origin. The guy stole a lot of property (and whole countries) that belonged to others!”14

Discussions on skalman.nu are generally less racist. Some of the threads on prehistory, about Huns, Goths, Vandals et cetera, are often influenced by popular genetics, but discussions in other areas are sometimes characterized by more critical perspectives. The posters often question the very notions of nations and nationalities and see them as constructions rather than natural entities. The thread about “The state of Sweden” starts with a question from a school boy having problem with his homework: “One thing bothers me. When could it be said that Sweden was established as a nation/state/kingdom?” The first reply suggests that Sweden was founded at a meeting between three kings in 1101. Another poster objects and writes that the nation building was more of a process, starting in the 13th century. He also refers to academic historians claiming that most people as late as the 17th century identified with landscapes rather than the state. Yet another poster writes that the whole thing depends on the definition of the “state”. The first king would be Olof Skötkonung (980–1022). But was he a ruler of a state? Probably not. One comment continues and makes a comparison with the European Union: “When was EU founded? 1951, 1957, 1965 or 1992? Where is the “birthplace” of EU? In Brussels, in Rome or in Maastricht? Is EU a state? No, hardly, but how will they see it in 900 years, how will they define a state then?” Some posters do not agree at all and refers to Tacitus who mentions “the communities of the Suiones” already in year 98. There is no consensus in the debate, but the posters are well aware of the different perspectives and that “the writing of history is always coloured by the time when it is written”.15 Popular history and academic writings are frequently quoted, as well as empirical sources. The discussions are very much influenced by the source criticism dominating the academic writing of history in Sweden during the 20th century. The origin and establishment of the state is of course a highly political question, but the discussion never develops into nationalistic and racist slogans common in similar threads on flashback.org.

The use of history is discussed further in a thread called “Does history really give an identity to rootless people?”. The first poster writes that it is often claimed that globalization makes people rootless, and that they turn to history to search for their identity. “But does history help that much with this?” Examples are taken from Sweden, England, Scotland and Egypt, showing that modern identities were created quite recently. “In what way does history provide people with an identity? To me it seems that the opposite is more likely. Did I miss something?”16 Some of the posts following the first one does not agree at all, but the initial question shows that the “revival of history”, that is said to be a result of modern rootlessness, also gives room for those questioning that history is the answer.

Europe and European identity

The discussions on history on flashback.org and skalman.nu are not limited to the history of Sweden. WWII and the history of the Balkans are among the most popular topics. Threads addressing direct questions on the history of Europe and European identity do not belong to the most popular ones, but they do exist.

The most posted history threads dealing with Europe and EU on flashback.org are “Why are the Latin parts of Western Europe more underdeveloped than the Germanic?”, and “Why are Swedes so uninformed about Europe?”. The first one starts with a reflection by a poster referring statistics on economy, corruption, religion et cetera showing that “the Germanic countries are always superior”. “Why is it so? I guess there’s some kind of historical explanation”. The first answer is posted five hours later and gives three explanations: Lack of civilisation, the industrial revolution, and modernity. Another comment mentions differences in climate and religion. Yet another comment points at the “northernness” of northern Europe. But some commentators question the initial assumption all together. If development/underdevelopment is interpreted in economic terms France and northern Italy should be considered more developed than many countries in northern Europe, and if it is interpreted in cultural terms the initial assumption would fall completely. If religion was an explanation, why is it that catholic northern Italy and southern Germany are economically more successful than many protestant parts of Europe? From the headline the reader would assume that this thread would be full of stereotypes and prejudices, but many posters turn the initial question against the poster who first asked it: “The question is not why the Latin parts of Europe are underdeveloped, the question is why you think they are.”17 This question becomes the start of a new thread: “Why are Swedes so uninformed about Europe?” Several explanations are suggested: The dominance of Anglo-American media, lack of travel experience except from picturesque sea resorts, nationalism and complacency, and knowledge about European history, but not about the last fifty years.18 This debate shows the diversity of the historical discussions on flashback.org. This is the forum where the most extreme and racist opinions are expressed, but it is also the forum where these opinions are questioned.

Similar discussions also take place on skalman.nu, in threads such as “Turkey in the EU” and “European identity?”. The latter thread tries to analyse what is meant by “Europe”, and all of the posters agree that the modern notion of Europe is a historical construction. To create something like “Europe” it takes a history of Christianity, EU, Eurovision song contest, an artificial conflict with Muslims and a fear of immigrants from Asia and Africa. The historical construction of the European identity – if there is one – is highlighted by one poster writing as follows:

I wonder if the image of Europe today (Western Europe, that is) may be something created after WWII. Previously it was the Central and Eastern European countries that were important when it comes to European culture. During the Cold War myths were created about “the underdeveloped Eastern Europe”, and they still exist today. To be crass, it is in Eastern Europe you find the original European culture still existing. In the West it has been corrupted by the Americans. Soviet and communism reformed the culture, but the so called “high culture” was strong there. What I mean is that the image we have of Europe today may be false. What we think about as different in the East is actually our old heritage.19


It is hard to synthesize such a diverse field as history online. In the same way as Internet generally, the sites on history are used to express hate and prejudices, as well as enlightenment and critical reflections. But to simplify, I think that three different types of debaters could be identified, depending on the character of their arguments and engagement in the discussions.

The firs one is characterised by the sometimes “nerdish” interest in history for its own sake. These posters are often interested in military history, what “really” happened on the battle field, the bows and arrows that were used, the models of the tanks and their differences, et cetera. It is possible to identify political dimensions of these discussions, but in most cases they are not explicit.

The second type use history to legitimize their own position, as superior Germanic people, as the true Illyrians or as Swedes with heroic Vikings as their ancestors. What is interesting with this group is its diversity in unity. Here we find the nationalistic Swedes expressing their hate towards people – living in Sweden or elsewhere – with a different ethnic or religious background. But we also find ethnic minorities engaged in regional conflicts, especially about the ethnic groups of the Balkans and the Middle East. These debaters are very diverse, but they use history in much the same way.

The third type is characterized by the critical and reflective way of discussing. The two previous groups are often engaged in establishing historical facts. But the third group seems to be more interested in deconstructing the facts that others take for granted, such as nation states and national identities.


1 Kurt Johannesson, Retorik eller konsten att övertyga, Stockholm 1998, 120; Ulf Zander, Fornstora dagar, moderna tider: Bruk av och debatter om svensk historia från sekelskifte till sekelskifte, Lund 2001, 317-8.

2 Zander, 409-22.

3 Populär Historia is analysed by Marianne Sjölund, Historia i magasin: En studie av tidskriften Populär Historias historieskrivning och av kommersiellt historiebruk, Lund 2011.

4 The activities on this forum is analysed by Bodil Axelsson, “History on the Web: Museums, Digital Media, and Participation”, in Anders Ekström, Solveig Jülich, Frans Lundgren & Per Wisselgren (eds), History of Participatory Media: Politics and Publics, 1750–2000, New York & London 2011.

5 “Samerna – INTE Sveriges urbefolkning!”, http://forum.skalman.nu/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=14940&start=15

6 Olle Findahl, Svenskarna och Internet 2012, Stockholm 2012.

7 ”Sveriges Historia Vasatiden”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3EHc7g9ILk

”Sveriges historia – Stormaktens uppgång 1611-1660”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHkWRe3Y8TA

9 Sjölund, 166-7.

10 ”Borde inte Afrika vara rikast och mäktigast?”, https://www.flashback.org/t1826381

11 ”Myter om vikingar”, https://www.flashback.org/t1240294

12 ”Pyramid hittad i Bosnien Hercegovina?”, http://forum.skalman.nu/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=21350

13 ”Bosnier och kroater är dom riktiga illyrerna”, https://www.flashback.org/t1579711p2

14 ”Alexander Den Store hade albanskt ursprung”, https://www.flashback.org/t276886p3

15 ”Staten Sverige”, http://forum.skalman.nu/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=20500

16 ”Ger verkligen historia identitet åt rotlösa människor?”, http://forum.skalman.nu/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=42085

17 ”Varför är de latinska delarna av västeuropa mer efterblivna än de germanska?”, https://www.flashback.org/t1116187

18 ”Varför har svenskar så dåliga kunskaper om Europa”, https://www.flashback.org/t1117477

19 ”Europeisk identitet?”, http://forum.skalman.nu/viewtopic.php?f=78&t=10794

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