The 2023 Nils Klim Seminar: 'Enlightenment Perspectives on Fact and Fiction'

How was the fact-fiction distinction established? This seminar investigates the emergence of new conceptions of fact and fiction in the 18th century.

Today, we take a division between fact and fiction for granted. It was, however, only in the 18th century that these categories became generic designators. This panel discusses manifestations of the emerging fact-fiction distinction in the 18th century in various outlets such as periodicals, novels, and pamphlets. Speaking from a point in time that has been labelled “post-truth”, the panelists address the Enlightenment era which established the fundamental fact-fiction distinction that we have since relied on.

Academic seminar held in honour of the 2023 Nils Klim Prize Laureate Simona Zetterberg-Nielsen. There will be an introduction of the topic by Zetterberg-Nielsen, followed by presentations by three invited guests, a panel discussion and Q&A.


Simona Zetterberg-Nielsen
Photo: Lars Kruse

Simona Zetterberg-Nielsen: Introduction of topic

Simona Zetterberg-Nielsen is Associate Professor of Scandinavian Studies at Aarhus University, where she leads a research group on fiction and science in the 18th century. Zetterberg-Nielsen is an editor of the journals 1700-tal and Passage, where she has contributed to publishing a large number of issues. She has published articles about the 18th century novel and fictionality in a historical perspective in journals such as Narrative, Style, Poetics Today, The Living Handbook of Narratology, and The Oxford Encyclopedia of Literary Theory. She has also written or edited books such as Fiktion, Fiktionalitet – i sprog, litteratur og kultur, Fictionality and Literature: Core Concepts Revisited, Middelalderisme i dansk romantisk litteratur, and Litteratur og idéhistorie. Zetterberg-Nielsen has received numerous grants and awards.  


Aina Nøding
Photo: Daniel Alter

Aina Nøding: "Reading Between the Lines in Periodical Media"

The new Enlightenment media of newspapers and periodcals experimented with a range of genres for conveying news and opinions, including stories, fables and poems. Furthermore, fiction and non-fiction texts were edited and reprinted from other media, publications or languages, often anonymously, in order to address controversial topics during a time of censorship. The press context added new layers of uncertain referenciality, voice and potential meaning in an already playful text culture.

Aina Nøding (PhD) is Research Librarian at the National Library of Norway. She heads the research project 'MAP: Made Abroad' on Norwegian world literature and has published extensively on Danish and Norwegian book and media history 1700-1900. Co-editor of Literary Citizenship in Scandinavia (2023).


Ulrik Langen
Photo: Robin Skjoldborg

Ulrik Langen: "Facts, Fiction, Anonymity, and Pseudonymity"

During the Danish-Norwegian Press Freedom Period 1770-1773, pamphleteers challenged existing textual codes of conduct. This gave rise to discussions about the dangers of anonymity and pseudonymity. It was widely felt that if the public were to be guided by honesty and truthfulness, limits had to be set on the fictional potential of anonymity and pseudonymity. But for many writers, there was a creative point in not maintaining too narrow distinctions between fact and fiction.

Ulrik Langen Ulrik Langen is a Professor of History at the University of Copenhagen. He has published several books and articles on various subjects within the field of cultural history 1700-1850.


Samuli Björninen
Photo: Anne Björninen

Samuli Björninen: "Factuality and the Rise of Modern Narrative Genres"

It may seem that the ”post-truth” age poses a unique challenge to the enlightenment categories on which much of the Western rationality depends. However, the domain of fact has been plural throughout its modern history. Our understanding of the current crisis can benefit from looking into the Enlightenment ideas of factuality from economics, politics, and philosophy, and asking how they have imprinted themselves on narrative genres such as the novel, biography and historiography.

Samuli Björninen is researcher at Tampere University. His academic fields are literary studies and interdisciplinary narrative studies. A major focus area of his postdoctoral research at Tampere and Aarhus Universities has been theorizing the rhetorical use of factuality in narratives.


Jørgen Sejersted
University of Bergen

Jørgen Magnus Sejersted (moderator)

Jørgen Magnus Sejersted is Professor of Nordic Literature at the University of Bergen. His primary research interests are Norwegian literature from the 18th and 19th century (primarily Ludvig Holberg and Henrik Wergeland). He has also published on baroque and modern poetry. Sejersted was project leader for the RCN project Ideologies of Holberg (2012–2016) and Chairman of the Norwegian management group for the web text project Collected works of Ludvig Holberg (2010-2015). He is the co-editor of the anthologies Ludvig Holbergs naturrett (2012) and Historikeren Ludvig Holberg (2014). Sejersted has previously been Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Bergen (2017-2021).


This event is a part of the Holberg Week, which this year takes place 6 - 12 June.


to 15:00, CEST.

07:00 AM to 10:00 AM, EDT

The University Aula in Bergen
Practical information
Open admittance