Erik Arup

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Erik Ipsen Arup (November 22, 1876 – September 23, 1951) was a Danish historian known as the pioneer of radical-liberal history writing in Denmark.

Born as the son of a Zealandian provincial doctor, he grew up during the long years of the Danish constitutional struggle; as a young man he was deeply impressed by Viggo Hørup and his political anti-militarist line. He was educated as both a theologian and a historian. During World War I Arup was connected to the social-liberal Zahle cabinet as a permanent under-secretary. From 1916 to 1947 he was a professor at the University of Copenhagen.

First and foremost, Arup should be seen as one of the early Scandinavian materialist historians, his breakthrough came with his dissertation Studier i engelsk og tysk Handels Historie (Studies in German and English History of Trade, 1907), a pioneering work stressing the geographic and economic, instead of the national or ethnic, background behind the development of trade. In addition to this work, he notably wrote on economic history in Schleswig-Holstein, on medieval economy, and on 18th Century foreign policy - besides producing a quick and popular biography of his inspirational figure Hørup (1941).

Arup's main work, however, is his unfinished Danmarks Historie (History of Denmark, published 1925-32) covering Danish history until 1624 (a posthumous volume, published in 1955, deals with the period until 1665), it was conceived as a textbook for the University but was, because of the considerable debate attending the publication of its first parts, never completed. What is innovative in this work is Arup's coverage of his country's evolution mainly from the angle of material development, of agriculture, of trade, and to some extent of public health. Political or international relations are not ignored, but are somewhat relegated to the background; the work is strongly influenced by the author's political views: his favourite aversions are war policy and militarism, arbitrary royal power, a number of national-patriotic myths, and in general everything he interprets as nationalist views. Among the author's ”victims” are thus Saxo Grammaticus, Absalon, King Christian IV, while men such as Christian II or some medieval opposition figures are given more approval. Arup's language is sharp and committed, marked by his unambiguous views, he concentrates on period documents rather than chronicles or other secondary narratives, and more generally introduces strict demands regarding source criticism. Demands that do not, however, preclude his own audacious conclusions.

The book provoked embittered attacks from many Danish historians. Arup was accused of non-patriotic views and of superficiality (he did not mention any sources in his work). Much of this may have been a more or less predictable conservative reaction against social-liberal views that were far from broadly accepted or understood at the time. More relevant today perhaps, is the critique of Arup as lacking historical feel and holding anachronistic views (such as his attempt to find “parliamentarian” traces in medieval government). Also, it has been argued that his work is more a reevaluation of existing values than a set of new discoveries. Nonetheless, this History of Denmark is in its own country still regarded as the most consistent break with traditional historical writing, and has offered much inspiration to later social-liberal and Marxist historians, thus if Arup, through much of his work and career, was on collision course with many colleagues of his age, he did acquire many faithful followers among younger historians. Still, the heated debate around his book wounded the polemical but also vulnerable Arup and inhibited his interest in finishing his work.

Arup was also the editor of Historisk Tidsskrift (Historical Review) from 1917 to 1924, involved in editing Danish medieval sources from 1931 to 1937, and for some years collaborator to the pioneering Danish-Swedish periodical Scandia, he took a particular interest in Iceland and, as member of several organisations dealing with Danish-Icelandic relations, he generally showed himself compliant with Icelandic views.

In many ways Arup considered himself a modern heir to Arild Huitfeldt. Among congenial contemporaries, Swedish Curt Weibull, founder of Scandia, should be highlighted. Arup's methodological views also appear inspired by French historians such as Charles Seignobos and Charles-Victor Langlois.

He was the cousin of Sir Ove Arup.


  • Dansk Biografisk Leksikon, vol. 1. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1979-84.
  • Christensen, Aksel E. "Erik Ipsen Arup. 22. november 1876 - 23. september 1951", in Festskrift, udgivet af Københavns Universitet i anledning af universitetets årsfest november 1952, pp. 115–33. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 1952. (Detailed obituary.)
  • Svenstrup, Thyge. Arup. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2006. (Recent, full-length biography, with 13 pp. English Summary.)