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Hans Christian Andersen and Community

On 6 December 1867, Hans Christian Andersen was made an honorary citizen of his native city, Odense. So this year we are able to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the event which Andersen was most enthusiastic about, and which led to the city being lit up in his honour. Odense will mark the anniversary with a festival of light on 6 December.

The University of Southern Denmark is celebrating the honorary citizenship by organising and holding an international conference from 5 December to 7 December with the theme “Hans Christian Andersen and Community”.

The theme of community has never been of a more vital significance than at the present time. The process we refer to as modernity has been synonymous with fragmentation and disintegration of all kinds of traditional communities. Today, we might be facing the culmination of this process. Inequality is on the rise. The spectres of nationalism are undermining various international communities. If people unite it is too often in the mistrust and sometimes hatred of other people.

Hans Christian Andersen lived at a time when this process was at its early stages. And he was acutely aware of its potential perils. Thus, the theme of community is a major one of his fairy tales and stories; often in ways which have to do with struggles for recognition in a social arena. You find many tales and stories about communities which are based on acts of exclusion. You might say that Andersen, by highlighting the dynamics of social exclusion, established a secret community of the desolate, the lonely and the marginalised.

Alongside the transformations of traditional communities, other communities seem to appear. Heritage is on political agendas, on research desks and in school curricula as never before, centred on the question of how we can make sense of ourselves in this new world. Across borders, an important part of cultural heritage is the literary canon, and as the battles of modernity are fought on one level, the gatherings around literature unfold on other levels. In these culturally specific communities, Hans Christian Andersen is a key figure, as his literary and cultural legacy has a magnetic effect on people around the globe.