Archives crucial for Freemasons’ identity
22 December 2020
The Order of Freemasons’ meticulous archives are fundamental to their identity. The unique structure of the masonic archives reinforces the secrecy and mystique of the self-image that has been fashioned by the Order — and characterises it in the eyes of others. This is shown in a recent thesis from Uppsala University, which focuses on the Masons’ archives in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“On the other hand, there’s no longer as much secrecy as many people, both inside and outside the Order, believe. Digital versions of numerous printed works from the 18th and 19th centuries are now available online, and scholars have access to huge amounts of material in public research libraries and archives, especially in Germany and France.”
The speaker is Tim Berndtsson, a recent PhD graduate, whose thesis is about the archiving practices of Freemasonry in Europe. He spent five years reading documents and exploring archives in Copenhagen, Berlin and The Hague. He also visited the Archive and Library of the Swedish Order of Freemasons, which until recently were closed to external researchers.
Berndtsson’s research was motivated by his wish to investigate the nature of archiving practices in organised civic life and associations of the 18th century. Within a fairly short time, the masonic approach to archiving presented itself as a subject in its own right. The Masons established an advanced system of administrative autonomy, while the closed nature of Freemasonry also made their local associations (“lodges”) repositories of esoteric knowledge.
The European continental branch of Freemasonry (to which Sweden belongs), in particular, is distinguished by its comprehensive documentation and archiving tradition.
Powerful conspiracy theories
Berndtsson’s research focuses mainly on the latter half of the 18th century – a period when secrets of diverse kinds were a central feature of existence but the authorities, for their part, were deeply suspicious of all covert activities. This epoch culminated in the French Revolution (1789–99), which some sought to blame entirely on the Freemasons.
“There are powerful conspiracy theories about them that have come to the fore at various times in history, depending on contemporary events. There’s no evidence for the demonising theories. It’s the very secrecy that creates them and has caused problems for the Masons, not only in the 18th and 19th centuries, but also from the world wars of the 20th century on.”
During the Second World War (1939–45), the Nazis systematically confiscated all the masonic material they could find. Once the war had ended, the Freemasons in France and Germany opted to deposit their collections in national research archives and generally open them up for serious scholarship. Given that the collections had already been brought out into the open, locking them away again was, they reasoned, no end in itself. This is the reason for the accessibility of these collections today, to members of the Order and outsiders alike.
Some of Berndtsson’s conclusions are as follows.
The Freemasons base their self-image and brand alike on all-inclusive archiving. Their thoroughness shows the conceptual importance of the archives in the 18th century, and also reflects how Freemasons in general see themselves.
“The Masons may be said to have created archives, but archives have also created the Masons. They’ve had clear rules about archiving. They’ve archived a great volume of different materials – from restaurant bills to initiation rituals – methodically and with meticulous care. They’ve managed to maintain the same procedures for a long time, and so been able to secure their own continuity, and build their own identity, over the centuries.”
The Freemasons’ way of archiving demonstrates the diverse uses of archives through history.
Nowadays, many people associate archives with openness, but in the 18th century – especially for the Freemasons – secrecy was a more important component. Modern archive theory distinguishes between archives composed of administrative registers and those containing scholarly collections. The Masons’ archives were of both types, often mixed together and not infrequently housed in the same space. Administrative documents, such as a membership register, records of proceedings and descriptions of how to perform rituals for specific ranks, are stored on the same shelves in the same libraries as narratives about the history of the Knights Templar, alchemy, kabbalah and astrology.
“The elements of both administrative control and esoterica, which some have regarded as hocus-pocus and others a source of spiritual wisdom, have also resulted in the archives as such becoming the subject of fantasy. Ever since the 18th century, both conspiracy theories and novels have been created on the basis of notions about the Masons’ ‘secret archives’. These fantasies of hidden information and knowledge, in turn, have led to further books and other writings being produced – reinforcing even more the conception of Freemasonry as something exclusive and exceptional,” Berndtsson says.
Berndtsson, T. (2020). The Order and the Archive: Freemasonic Archival Culture in Eighteenth-Century Europe. PhD thesis, Uppsala University, published in Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.
New thesis: Finery for fashionable ladies
11 maj 2021
When the first descriptions of knitting and crochet were published in Swedish, in the mid-19th century, such handiwork was described as the finest of all feminine handicrafts, for the benefit and pleasure alike of the trend-conscious, diligent mid...
Linnaeus’ complicated relationship with racism
07 maj 2021
Since June 2020, Carl Linnaeus has been a subject of debate in Sweden and around the world. What sparked it off were the actions of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Statues of slave owners have been lambasted or destroyed. In Sweden, the dis...
Conspiracy theories characterise views in and about Europe
03 maj 2021
Conspiratorial narratives of internal disintegration and external threats affect views in the European Union and Europe to an increasing extent. Our trust in society is put to the test in crises such as COVID-19 when various groups are singled out...
Nordic conspiracy theories through the ages
01 mars 2021
Conspiracy theories are becoming more common in the world, and the Nordic countries are no exception. Are some conspiracy theories unique to the Nordic countries? What typical narratives are disseminated? And when did this really start? A new book...
The plague year of 1710 was also a difficult year
24 februari 2021
As historians, it is our job to take a step back and give perspective to our current situation. For anyone looking back, it isn’t hard to find other difficult years. In Sweden’s past, 1710 was undoubtedly one such year, writes Jonas Lindström, res...
Sustainable development the focus of new graduate school at Campus Gotland
21 januari 2021
On 18 January, Uppsala University’s new multidisciplinary graduate school opened at Campus Gotland. Its focus is on sustainable development. This involves research on key societal challenges within changing energy systems, sustainable consumption,...
Archives crucial for Freemasons’ identity
22 december 2020
The Order of Freemasons’ meticulous archives are fundamental to their identity. The unique structure of the masonic archives reinforces the secrecy and mystique of the self-image that has been fashioned by the Order — and characterises it in the e...
Grants for research on the impact of AI on people and society
15 december 2020
In a major 10-year national research programme, two Wallenberg Foundations are supporting research on the impact of the ongoing technology shift, involving digitalisation and artificial intelligence, on our society and our behaviour. Two of the gr...
Linnaeus and Rudbeck medallists chosen
10 december 2020
This year the Rudbeck Medal is awarded to Professors Olle Eriksson, Inger Sundström Poromaa and Maria Ågren, while the Linnaeus Medal is awarded to Professor Kerstin Lindblad Toh and Chairman Dai-Won Yoon at Hallym University in South Korea.
Turkic cultural heritage in Uppsala
07 december 2020
Uppsala University has a rich collection of manuscripts, printed material, art objects and maps related to the Ottoman Empire and other Turkic cultures. How did they come to Uppsala? This story is told in a new book “Turcologica Upsaliensia. An Il...
Fallen in battle, these Swedish Vikings are part of a larger genetic puzzle
17 september 2020
In a recently published article in the journal Nature, 90 researchers from various countries have collaborated to develop new knowledge about the Viking-era population. Marie Allen, professor of forensic genetics at Uppsala University, has contrib...
The VR game that takes you to medieval Visby
14 augusti 2020
Using a VR helmet, you can try your hand at archery in 14th century Visby. This new VR game has been developed by the game company Disir, which was founded by a game developer and three archaeologists, of which two research at Uppsala University.
“The American dilemma is far from resolved”
15 juni 2020
The police violence in Minneapolis that resulted in the death of George Floyd has once again thrust relations between black and white Americans onto the agenda, a dilemma that will most likely play a central role in this autumn’s presidential elec...
Social graces and etiquette vital for Carl Linnaeus
04 juni 2020
What would have become of Carl Linnaeus if he had remained single? Would science have missed out on one of its major lodestars without his well-functioning household? And was his son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger, really the ne’er-do-well he was repu...
Medieval manuscript fragments acquired
26 maj 2020
A group of fragments of medieval manuscripts has been acquired by Uppsala University Library. Among these there is a fragment related to Saint Bridget of Sweden. This particular fragment may have been written at or owned by the Vadstena Abbey.
She studies AI as existential media
30 april 2020
How are we influenced when smart digital assistants, like Siri and Alexa, become part of our homes? And what happens when we begin to track deviating individuals through biometrics? “More research is needed on what it means to be human in a digita...
New study reveals unknown side of Astrid Lindgren’s creative process
21 februari 2020
Why did Jonathan Lionheart’s pitch-black hair suddenly turn golden? And how did Master Detective Kalle Blomqvist get his proper name? In the “Astrid Lindgren Code”, literature researcher Malin Nauwerck lifts the lid on some of the literary world’s...
History professor given prestigious assignment
22 januari 2020
Maria Ågren, professor of history, has been awarded a distinguished professor grant of SEK 50 million over 10 years by the Swedish Research Council. The council awarded grants totalling some SEK 380 million to eight applicants.
Winner of the 2019 Geijer Prize Named
14 januari 2020
The Geijer Prize for history 2019 has been awarded to Mia Kuritzen Löwengart for her doctoral thesis A Matter of Social Urgency: The emergence of a symphony orchestra and concert house in Stockholm, ca. 1890-1926 and Hedvig Widmalm for her doctora...
Legendary runestone bears witness to climate anxiety 1,200 years ago
08 januari 2020
After more than 1,000 years, one of the greatest mysteries of the early Viking Age, the Rök runestone which bears the world’s longest runic inscription, appears to have been solved. According to four Swedish researchers, the puzzling inscription h...