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Studies and Records
Volume III

Published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association, Northfield, Minnesota
Copyright 1928 by the Norwegian-American Historical Association

Preface

The time is near at hand when a documentary history of American immigration must be made available for students of that mighty and complex folk wandering. When such a magnum opus is planned, a large place will undoubtedly be given to "America letters" and "America books," for they are luminous revealers of the mind of the immigrant in its reactions to the European situation, to the process of transition, and to the difficulties of adjustment to American surroundings. As one ranges over unpublished and published materials in this field one finds everywhere, standing out in relief, the record of a debate. On the one side were those who opposed emigration, on the other those who favored it; and into their debate went argument, informed opinion, prejudice and ignorance, traditional choices and loyalties, discontents, blind longings, stirring ambitions, the sharp tug of blood and language and home, -- all the widely ramifying forces that touch and influence and are affected by human migration on a large scale. The story of this clash of ideas merges with the larger story of a popular movement of great magnitude, and this in turn becomes an intimate part of the broad social history both of the Old World and of the New.

Several documents illustrating this common people's debate are published in the present volume. These relate to the immigration from Norway and have been turned into English from the Norwegian. They include a letter by a disillusioned immigrant whose testimony was spread broadcast by a bishop who on his own account had issued a philippic aimed at the strange madness that had entered the hearts of many commoners in southwestern Norway. They include a letter by a "doctrinaire idealist," beneath whose praise of America smolders resentment over injustice and inequality in a Europe that had not achieved Utopia through revolution. They include extracts from letters by fair-minded immigrants seeking consciously and through organized effort to refute what they considered misrepresentation of America by hostile critics. They include letters that tell naively of the marvelous experiences that accompanied the exchange of one world for another. And they include an argument against emigration by a Norwegian who recognized the need of modernizing agricultural methods in Norway about the middle of the nineteenth century. These documents will help students to piece out the history of Norwegian immigration to the United States; perhaps they will also have a wider interest for those who desire to understand the European emigration of the last century. The Norwegian-American Historical Association is collecting "America letters" and "America books" both in Norway and in America, and it would like to encourage the collection of similar and related materials for other emigrant streams in the larger flow of European emigration.

In addition to six documentary contributions, this volume contains three formal articles. One is a plea for the preservation of a special kind of documentary source, -- the church records of the Norwegian-Americans. One tells the life story of a mid-western landnamsman, who was not unlike the "land-takers" of the sagas in his combination of force of character with generous cultural interests; his story is a chapter in the social history of the American West. The last article is a soaring survey of the Icelandic communities of America and of the special elements in their backgrounds that go so far to explain their present characteristics.

Theodore C. Blegen
Minnesota Historical Society
St. Paul, Minnesota

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