Denmark was formerly a large nation. To the south, its Territory included Holstein and Schleswig, which were conquered by Germany in 1864. (Part of Schleswig was returned to Denmark through a referendum held after World War I.) To the northeast, it included the provinces of Scania, Halland, and Blekinge, which became the southernmost provinces of Sweden in 1660. Until 1814 Norway and Denmark were united under the Danish crown. Westward to the Atlantic Ocean, the Kingdom of Denmark includes the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Iceland acquired independent nation status after World War I, subject only to a personal union under the Danish crown. It became completely independent of Denmark in 1944.
Denmark is an industrialized, urbanized nation with virtually universal literacy. Danes are full participants in the International culture of the modern world. Denmark is a member of the European Community (Common Market). A century ago, most were peasants in what was then an impoverished developing nation. They were similar in culture to peasant villagers in neighboring Germany to the south and in Sweden and Norway to the north. Like the rest of Europe, however, the lives of some Danes of the nineteenth century, as well as of earlier times, were not shaped by peasant culture. Those who belonged to the ruling class lived on large estates, followed customs shared by aristocrats throughout Europe, and spoke either French or German in addition to Danish. They looked to the royal court of the king of Denmark for cultural leadership. Townspeople were also different in many aspects of culture, since they lived from crafts, merchandising, and service occupations rather than agriculture. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, German was widely spoken in Danish towns, but by the nineteenth century most spoke Danish as their family language. Culturally, they were influenced by town life in other parts of western Europe, particularly in Germany, since many artisans spent a year or more working abroad before returning to Denmark as journeymen. No comparable custom united Danish townswomen with women in other parts of Europe.