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The Norwegian-American Historical Association
by D. G. Ristad (Volume I: Page 147)

The Norwegian people are a race whose vitality has been maintained undiminished through many centuries. One of the evidences of this native vitality is the surplus of energy which this people has thrown off in the form of emigrants to other lands. Where these emigrants have come to settle they have added new energies to the native stock of the races of which they have become a part. The drain upon the home population has continued with more or less intensity during Norway's entire history. There have been periods when the national vitality was lowered by various causes, -- war, pestilence, and famine, for example,-- but the recuperative energies of the people have asserted themselves, and usually after such periods the nation has soon had a surplus of population.

During the last hundred years, while more than a half million persons emigrated from Norway to the United States and Canada, and many thousands of Norwegians were in foreign service, the population in Norway increased rapidly and the physical health of the people maintained itself at a high standard. In the arts and sciences, also, in industry, commerce, politics, and education the people of the northern kingdom have shown a vitality that places them among the energetic peoples of the world today. While making history both in their own country and abroad, they have not neglected to take stock of their past and to interpret their record as a race and as a nation.

All this has tended to produce a marked racial consciousness among the people of Norway and their sons and daughters who have become citizens of other lands. Yet the Norwegian people have shown, from ancient days to the present, a talent for adapting themselves to new conditions and new environments. Trained in democracy and. freedom, they have been able to adjust themselves easily to the political, social, and industrial institutions of peoples whose conditions have been similar to their own. The transition to the American and Canadian environment has therefore been particularly smooth, for ideals, traditions, and aspirations have created an atmosphere genuinely homelike, while at the same time the immigrants from Norway have found a profitable outlet for their physical and intellectual energies. The removal from the Old to the New World was an act that may have been felt for a time as a shock, but it does not appear to have diminished the vigor of the people; rather it increased the vitality of their growth in the new soil. While adjusting themselves to the new environment, they have taken seriously their responsibility in the forming of the type of American racial individuality which is being produced out of composite elements; conscious of their backgrounds and origins, they have desired to give to the new nation the best elements in their nature and their cultural experience. Thus they have recognized an obligation both to the past and to their posterity.

From. time to time Americans of Norwegian birth or descent have considered among themselves the desirability of establishing an historical agency which might collect and preserve records and objects that throw light upon the activities and backgrounds of this element in the American population. They have discussed the problem of setting up and maintaining a museum, and a collection of manuscript and library materials, and they have wished to promote historical research within this special field. Much work in this sphere has indeed been done by individuals, denominational schools, and provincial and other societies, and a large amount of more or less cohesive material has been collected. But it was not until the Norse-American Centennial celebration in June, 1925, that a plan for an historical organization of national scope took definite shape.

The idea of such a society was discussed earnestly as early as 1907 by the members of the Symra Society of Decorah, Iowa. in connection with the publication of the historical and literary periodical Symra, which had been founded two years earlier by Johannes Wist and others. It is not unlikely that in other parts of the country the need of an organization was also taken under consideration. In the fall of 1913 Mr. Totstein Jahr of Washington, D. C., on a lecture tour through the Northwest presented cogent reasons for the organization of an historical society, and also brought the matter to public attention through the press, but without tangible results.

A suggestion that a Norwegian-American historical society should be organized in connection with the centennial celebration was made public in the summer of 1924 by Mr. Carl L. Tellefsen of ,Washington, D. C., and considerable discussion of the matter appeared in the press. On October 21, 1924, Professor Gisle Bothne of the University of Minnesota and a number of other interested persons issued a joint call for a meeting to be held during the centennial celebration for the purpose of ascertaining the degree of interest that existed in favor of the organization of an historical society. In preparation for this meeting the subject was given considerable publicity and in the spring of 1925 a draft constitution was published in the Norwegian-American newspapers. The stress of affairs at the centennial celebration crowded out the proposed organization meeting, but a number of enthusiasts, who desired to take advantage of the foundations that had already been prepared, met in Decorah late in July, 1925, and concluded to make an effort to bring the society into existence. Fourteen men, at the outset, contributed each the sum of ten dollars, and Dr. Knut Gjerset, professor of history at Luther College, proceeded to reconnoiter the field. During the summer and fall he made a personal canvass, assisted by Mr. Kristian Prestgard of Decorah and Professor O. E. RČlvaag of St. Olaf College, with the result that by October 1, 1925, more than a hundred persons had promised to become members of the projected association.

A call to meet at St. Olaf College, in Northfield, Minnesota, on October 6, 1925, met with a splendid response, and the Norwegian-American Historical Association was duly organized, temporary officers were elected, and a tentative constitution was adopted. The organization was completed, a charter adopted, and the association incorporated under the laws of the state of Minnesota at a meeting held in St. Paul on February 3, 1926. The growth in the membership of the association is evidenced by the membership list printed in the present volume.

The future activity and usefulness of the association will depend upon adequate funds, a systematic collection of records, and the cooperation of historical scholars -- all backed by the active and general interest and support of the people at large.

The first step in the program is illustrated by the present volume of Studies and Records. As soon as the necessary funds permit, a quarterly magazine will be published; and it is the hope of the association that it will be in a position to bring before the public from time to time monographs dealing exhaustively with different subjects, to be written by competent scholars in the particular fields.

A volume, or several volumes, of translated "America letters" and pamphlets and books written by Norwegian immigrants and travelers in America .will probably be brought out by the association, and it is also expected that the preparation of a series of bibliographies in the field of Norwegian-Americana will be undertaken.

The association will lend its efforts to the gathering of source material and will encourage its adequate care and preservation in designated repositories. It particularly wishes to secure diaries, account books, church records, letters, proceedings of societies, and other materials that throw light on the life, character, and achievements of the Norwegian people in America. The association will also help to maintain and to develop the Norwegian-American Historical Museum at Luther College, Decorah, by assisting in its collection of objects of home industry and .art in its special field.

The Norwegian-American Historical Association desires to cooperate with all organizations that touch, in their activities, the broad field that the association seeks to cultivate -- the Norwegian element both in its relations to its racial source and its special historical and cultural backgrounds and in its relations to the history and culture of the American people, of which it has gradually been becoming an integrant part.

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