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Studies and Records
Volume VIII

Published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association, Northfield, Minnesota
Copyright 1934 by the Norwegian-American Historical Association

Preface

Mr. James Truslow Adams closes his Epic of America by considering the discouraging, but in his opinion not hopeless, prospect of realizing what he terms the "American dream "-the dream of "a better, richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank." It is perhaps not without significance that, at the end of his discussion, he should make an immigrant the spokesman of the American spirit. "Mine is the whole majestic past," exclaims Mary Antin, "and mine is the shining future," and she declares that although "endless ages have indeed throbbed" through her blood, a "new rhythm dances" in her veins.

Millions of immigrants have doubtless felt the same throbbing of the ages and the same pulsation of a "new rhythm." Notwithstanding the universality of the experience, the problem of measuring it, of tracing its effects upon thought and action, and of appraising its significance in the life of the nation is one of subtle difficulty. It involves all the complexities of human transition in a wide geographical setting through a succession of generations. It invites the serious efforts not only of historians, but also of economists, sociologists, psychologists, novelists, poets, and other recorders and interpreters of human phenomena. Historians can contribute toward its solution by assembling and publishing immigrant documents of infinite variety and by making detailed and searching investigations of the problem in its different aspects. Recent years have indeed witnessed considerable progress from both of these points of view, but little more than a good beginning has been made. Ultimately, it may be hoped, some master of synthesis will portray the role of immigration in American history more profoundly and discerningly than it has yet been done.

The articles and documents that comprise the present volume should prove of some little interest to interpreters of the "new rhythm,"-- and perhaps also of the "American dream,"-- for they furnish information about social, economic, and political phases of the forces of transition among one immigrant people over a long period. One article turns a searchlight upon the beginnings, fifty years ago, of Norwegian-American fiction. An emigrant song enables one to share the emotions of a group of immigrants halfway between the Old World and the New nearly a century ago. Through a letter written from Illinois in 1837, which has been preserved in a mountain-valley home of Norway, one may catch a glimpse of the mind of an early immigrant pioneer. Four "America letters" picture the mid-century scene on the plains of Texas as viewed through immigrant eyes. An article based upon contemporary documents describes the introduction of newly arrived immigrants to the politics of a frontier state in the forties. The narrative of an eyewitness makes vivid the joys and sorrows and novel experiences attendant upon the emigrant voyage in the period of sailing vessels. A documentary analysis throws light upon the position taken in the election of 1852 by a leading immigrant newspaper of that day; and this is followed by a penetrating depiction of the general editorial policy of an important foreign-language newspaper a half century later. If the American rhythm was irregular and faltering in the pioneer immigrant press, it had become steady and firm in the successors of that press by the twentieth century.

This volume also includes the fourth installment in Mr. Hodnefield's series of painstaking reports on recent publications of Norwegian-American interest; and it closes with a communication by a pioneer Dakota minister about a Missouri River fort in the eighties.

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

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