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A Short History of Sweden


Swedish history comprises more than 10,000 years and starts after the last glacial period. After the melting of the inland ice, the climate became warmer, and settlers seem to have arrived to the northern parts of the country from the east as well as from the south. They lived from hunting, fishing and collecting.

To make a long story short, agriculture was introduced during the Stone Age, and there was a subsequent Bronze Age followed by an Iron Age. The long process of creating political unity started about 1100 A.D.

During the course of its history, Sweden has, of course, received many important influences from abroad. Most prominent was probably the German influence during the Middle Ages, when the Hanseatic League dominated trade in northern Europe. French culture, on the other hand, was adopted at court and among the upper class in the 18th century, while German cultural influence had a revival in the 19th century.

The period from about 1750 to 1850 saw a far-reaching modernization of agriculture. If you compare a map of a rural area from the 18th century with one from today, you will get an idea of what happened in this period. On the old map, living houses, barns etc. belonging to several families were standing close together in a village, perhaps with a church in the middle of it. The cultivated area was split up into several small lots, the result of centuries of inheritance and marriages. The new map, on the other hand, shows separate farms far apart, where each farm has a few large fields around it. The old village has been split up and the farming land redistributed among the families. In addition, pasture-land that used to belong to the villagers collectively has been divided into individual lots and cultivated.

Agonizing as this change sometimes was to the families affected, it did result in an increased agricultural production, which was necessary in a country with a rapidly growing population. But the concentration of farming land and the increase in population meant that there were more and more people who did not own any land at all. A prolitariat of farm laborers without property started forming. Some of them tried to find jobs in the rapidly growing towns, where the developing industries needed more workers. Emigration was another possibility. All in all, almost one million people left the country this way, many of them ending up in America.

Around 1930, the area used for agricultural production had reached its maximum, and 50 percent of the population were engaged in agriculture. Twenty years later, only some 20 percent lived on the countryside.

We have mentioned the mass exodus from Sweden in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We should not forget, however, that Sweden is also a country of immigrants. From the end of the glacial period and onwards, people have settled in the area which is now called "Sweden". Today, as a result of economic and political changes, many different cultures are represented in the population. Equally important is the foreign influence reaching us through TV, music, fashion, food, etc. As can be expected, the US is a major contributor here. Although some people regard this as a form of 'cultural imperialism', most of us find it hard to imagine what life would be like in a monolithic, 'purely Swedish' culture.

1994, a further step towards internationalism was taken, when the Swedish people decided in a referendum to join the EU. Whether one thinks it is right or not to give up parts of what used to be sovereign rights, the membership will most likely simplify international contacts and exchange, and hopefully contribute to the stability of Europe and neighbouring areas.

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