Geirangerfjord, Norway, June 2016
As most of my publications would suggest, I have a strong interest in subjects related to the Nordic countries, particularly Norway. And most of my historical research has been in the area of Scandinavian immigration history.
My father's family immigrated from Norway to the Palouse region of Eastern Washington in 1922, when he was 12. They settled near La Crosse, Washington, where there was a small community of Norwegian immigrants, most from the same area in Norway. The first Norwegian settlers in the area came via Minnesota, and arrived in La Crosse in 1901. In 1903, they founded a Lutheran congregation: Selbu Lutheran Church. The community grew quickly, as other friends and relatives moved from Minnesota in the ensuing years. In 1907, the first group of immigrants arriving directly from Norway arrived. They included my maternal grandparents. The overwhelming majority of settlers in the community came originally from Selbu, Norway, for which they named their church.
Because both sides of my family came from the same community in Norway, my parents maintained a number of Norwegian traditions from that region (particularly foods associated with Christmas). That sparked my interest in my cultural heritage, which was further strengthened when I was in college, and I had the opportunity to study the Norwegian language. In the summer of 1968, I attended the University of Oslo International Summer School, where I was able to take a course in Norwegian history. That planted a seed for my future academic focus.
In the early 1980's, I wrote an article about the Selbu community near La Crosse for The Bunchgrass Historian, the Whitman County Historical Society Quarterly. While doing the research for that, I realized that the short article I was writing only scratched the surface of the subject. So together with Fred C. Bohm, a close friend from graduate school (who was also the editor of The Bunchgrass Historian who had asked me to write the short article), we wrote a history of that community, Norse to the Palouse: Sagas of the Selbu Norwegians, published in 1990. From that point on, my research focus shifted from modern German history to Scandinavian immigration.
In 1989, I was encouraged to teach a course at Washington State University (WSU) on the history of Scandinavia, and in 1998, I added a course on the Vikings. My experience teaching those courses, combined with my research in Scandinavian immigration history, helped me secure a teaching position at Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa. I taught there from 2000 until I retired in 2013.
NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Company) sent two journalists to visit the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah in early 2018. Besides visiting the museum itself, they spent some time with three people who had something brought from Norway by our ancestors, or who knew something about Norwegian immigration (or in my case, both). The article appeared in Norwegian on the NRK website, and I received permission to post a translation on my website.
The National Public Radio (NPR) program, "Interfaith Voices," devoted a program to the subject of "God and Government: Humanism blooms in Norway" On November 30, 2018. In addition to looking at conditions in contemporary Norway, they wanted some background about the Norwegian influences on the early Lutheran Church, and interviewed me on the subject.
Similarly, for the study of Scandinavian history, you may be interested in the Society of Historians of Scandinavia.
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