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The Freedom of the Woods: Antiquarian Landscapes and Politics


Ülrike Sommer

University College London, GB
About Ülrike
Institute of Archaeology
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Dark and deep mysterious woods or forests figure prominently in the works of the German Romantic School (ca. 1790–1840). The novellas, poems and novels of Josef von Eichendorff (1788–1857) and especially of Ludwig Tieck (1773–1853) portray the “Loneliness of the woods” (Waldeinsamkeit) that can be both a threat to personal identity, and a refuge from the complications and ugliness of modern life, where the beginning of industrialization was endangering traditional social structures and changing urban and rural environments. Such dark and deep woods also figure prominently in Grimm’s fairy tales (first edition 1812–15) and, perhaps are best known, from the paintings of Caspar-David Friedrich (1744–1840). Descriptions of these landscapes, and especially of ‘majestic woodlands’ also appear in accounts of prehistoric monuments, and indeed, could be used to help in the discovery of these monuments (see below).

But are these Romantic woodlands just a new type of landscape, perceived for the first time because of a new aesthetic (Schama 1996)? Or do they also convey another meaning? In this article, I am going to look at the way in which the relations between humans and their environment were interpreted, and then how this was used in the interpretation of archaeological finds. In the early nineteenth century some antiquarian texts conspicuously used landscapes to convey political messages.

How to Cite: Sommer, Ü., 2007. The Freedom of the Woods: Antiquarian Landscapes and Politics. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 17(2), pp.31–41. DOI:
Published on 07 Nov 2007.
Peer Reviewed


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