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Studies and Records
Volume V

Published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association, Northfield, Minnesota
Copyright 1930 by the Norwegian-American Historical Association

Preface

A migrating person, writes a noted scholar, "is more than flesh and bones, more than clothes, a bundle on his back, and a satchel in his hand -- he is a culture medium, and a part of all human life that has preceded him." In other words, immigrants are people, not lines in a graph, dots on a map, or figures in a table. All that contributes to our understanding of the immigrant adds to our comprehension of American life as a whole. For, as an observer of the American scene remarks, "There are all the colors and forms of humanity in our daily life -- the mingling of races and molding of a race -- the amalgamation of ancient inheritances into a new tradition."

In the essays and documents that comprise the present volume one may catch reflections of "the colors and forms" of one immigrant element in America -- that made up of the people who trace their origins to the western half of the Scandinavian peninsula. One article tells of a fur trader of the early nineteenth century who knew the perils and hardships of wilderness life in the Canadian Northwest. In a group of translated "America letters " -- derived from manuscripts preserved in Norway -- three immigrant women set forth their experiences on the frontier in the foundation period of the upper Mississippi Valley. In another document the captain of an emigrant vessel recounts vividly his observations and experiences on a journey made eighty-six years ago from New York to Wisconsin, then the Mecca of immigrants from the European North. One article describes in concrete terms some of the everyday social and economic aspects of pioneering, with a community in the northern valley of the Mississippi as the point of vantage.

That the Norwegian immigrant has sought to interpret himself in relation to both the new world and the old is demonstrated in the appraisal of Norwegian-American fiction, herewith published. This study is timely in view not only of the place that one book in this class -- Giants in the Earth -- has made for itself in the general literature of the pioneer West, but also of the current interest in "regional fiction." The novels necessarily devote much attention to the struggle with nature and the problem of material well-being, but they also disclose the profound interest that the Norwegian immigrants had in religious questions. The concern of many Norwegian-Americans about Lutheran fundamentals was brought to the point of an emotional explosion in the early eighties by the American visit of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, poet, orator, and fearless controversialist. The article dealing with this curious episode, buttressed by many contemporary expressions of opinion, has more than an episodic importance, for it lights up a wide background. Significant, too, from the point of view of promoting understanding of the transplanting of religious views and of the fixing of their roots in American soil is the article explaining the origins of a Norwegian-American Lutheran college.

The inclusion of a bibliographical survey of recent writings dealing with Norwegian-American history marks a new departure in the present series. The interest and usefulness of this check list are so obvious that it is planned to give place to similar compilations in succeeding volumes of STUDIES AND RECORDS,

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

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