The Library of Congress has held books about Denmark and/or from Denmark at least since 1815, when President Thomas Jefferson sold to the Library his personal collection of 6,487 volumes, which included the second (1794) edition of Frederik Thaarup’s Veiledning til det danske Monarkies Statistik [Reference book for the Danish Kingdom’s statistics]. Today, the Library of Congress has over 25,000 books about Denmark, some of which are included in the roughly 85,000 titles in the Danish language in the Library's collections. In sum, the Library has in its collections of monographs and periodicals nearly 90,000 titles from or about Denmark. The total number of volumes is estimated at between 115,000 and 125,000, as many of the individual titles are multi-volume. These materials cover all disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, with particular strengths in history, language, and literature. Of the books from or about Denmark, the vast majority are in Danish (75%), while a smaller percentage are either in English (15%) or in one of over a dozen other languages, including German, Swedish, French, and Latin (10%). During the 1990s, the Library averaged annual receipts of approximately 650 monographic titles: 600 titles from Denmark, 25 Denmark-related titles published in the United States, and 25 Denmark-related titles published outside Denmark and the United States. From the year 2000 to the present day, the Library has received an annual average of almost 500 titles from Denmark, around 25 titles about Denmark published in the U.S., and 40 or so titles about Denmark published outside of both Denmark and the U.S. This means that the Library has received an average per annum of well over 550 titles from or about Denmark in the 2000s.
The Library of Congress has hundreds of volumes by or about individual Danish cultural figures, such as the satirist Ludvig Holberg, the polymath pastor Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig, the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and the fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen, who is well-represented in the Jean Hersholt Collection in the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room. The genealogy of Denmark and important historical events, such as the German occupation of the country from 1940 to 1945, are each the subject of hundreds of books in the Library’s holdings.
Over the course of its history, Denmark has gained and lost possession of England, the Orkney Islands, Norway, Schleswig-Holstein, the Caribbean islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John, and finally Iceland. In 1917, Denmark sold to the United States St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John, then known as the Danish West Indies, and now called the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many of the Library's more than 750 books about these islands discuss Denmark's colonization of them, beginning with the acquisition of St. Thomas in 1666. In 1901 the Library of Congress produced a bibliography entitled A List of Books (with References to Periodicals) on the Danish West Indies.
Now consisting of just some of the Jutland peninsula and nearly 1,500 islands, Denmark is 16,584 square miles, making it somewhat larger than the state of Maryland. This figure excludes Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are autonomous territories of the Kingdom of Denmark. (Separate guides for Greenland and the Faroe Islands will be forthcoming.) There are under 6 million people living within Denmark proper today. Despite its current size, Denmark, throughout its history, has exerted a disproportionate cultural influence on the world in general and the Anglophone sphere in particular.
Beowulf, the first classic work of literature in the English language, takes place in Denmark and Sweden and recounts the deeds of its titular Scandinavian prince early in the sixth century. Having been composed in perhaps the eighth century, the only surviving manuscript of this epic poem was written in the tenth or eleventh century in Old English, a language closely related to Old Norse, i.e., the language from which modern Danish is descended. It was not until 1815 that the whole of Beowulf was published as a printed book, as De Danorum rebus gestis secul. III & IV, a Latin translation by the Icelander Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin, who had transcribed the manuscript on a commission from the Danish King Christian VII (Kiernan, 1986, p. 2), as Iceland was then under the Danish Crown.
Many Americans know the eponymous hero of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as “the melancholy Dane,” but fewer are aware that the Bard borrowed this figure from a work of history: the Gesta Danorum [Deeds of the Danes] of the twelfth-century historian Saxo Grammaticus. Writing in Latin, Saxo started his magnum opus by chronicling the reigns of the first 60 Danish kings, who were known only by legend. Among these legends is that of “Amleth,” which Shakespeare rendered as “Hamlet.”
In the nineteenth century, H. C. Andersen’s fairytales became widely popular with readers and listeners of all ages in Continental Europe, as well as in Great Britain and the United States. Eventually, the fairytales would be translated into nearly 150 languages and be read all over the world. Andersen’s contemporary, the philosopher Kierkegaard, had to wait until the next century to achieve global fame, and then only posthumously, but by the 1940s a Kierkegaard-mania was sweeping the United States, carrying along everyone from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the novelist Henry Miller (Cotkin, 2003, pp. 35, 44).
Denmark, like the rest of Scandinavia, is known today not only for its sleek architecture and design, but also for its “Nordic Noir” fictions and TV series. These gritty depictions of life in Denmark jive somewhat incongruously with the utopian image of the country seen from abroad, as generous parental leave and government pensions are expected to ensure the welfare of every citizen from the cradle to the grave. Children in particular are given an abundance of attention, and the Danish toy company Lego has long enhanced their imaginative worlds. The Library of Congress’ collections have kept pace with the evolution of Denmark, as art books and literature, along with the latest scholarship, continue to pour into the Library’s General Collections.