The King’s Tomahawk. Collecting and Displaying Non-European Objects in Seventeenth Century Sweden.

Project leader

Funding source

Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ)

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2010
Funding: 1940000 SEK


In a showcase at the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm a tomahawk is displayed, made in eastern North America and dated back to the seventeenth century. Besides being a precious and unusually well-preserved example from its time, of the material culture of Native Americans, it is also incorporated in a narrative on cultural encounters and transactions, and on Sweden’s colonial past. Already in the 1680’s the tomahawk was shown in Stockholm as part of the collections of King Charles XI. It thus suggests that the young nation shaped its self-image not only in relation to other European nations, but also to the world outside of Europe. Taking possession of the world, materially as well as mentally, was an important part of the construction of a national identity.

This project is about non-European objects acquired by Swedish Royalties and Nobility in the seventeenth century: artistically shaped weapons, jewellery, textiles, ritual objects and utility goods from America, Africa and Asia. How did these objects reach Sweden? How were they classified? What other kinds of objects were they displayed with? At what occasions were they looked at and used? In negotiating issues like these, the project approaches the more fundamental question of how non-European objects were incorporated in a narrative about the Other and, ultimately, contributed to the formation of a national identity.

Last updated on 2017-29-03 at 17:13