Studies and Records
Published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association,
Copyright © 1938 by the Norwegian-American Historical Association
One of the problems of American history is that of understanding the social and cultural realities underlying transition in immigrant life. Among other things, pioneering studies are needed to illustrate new approaches to such an understanding and to reveal the riches of records hitherto little used. From this point of view, the present volume should have considerable interest, for it is devoted largely to social aspects of immigrant history and it illustrates novel avenues of approach and the use of unfamiliar source materials.
Professor Haugen, armed with a recording phonograph and employing original linguistic techniques, has made a
singularly important contribution to the study of "the immigrant's psychological and cultural development." His essay opens the way to new understanding of Norwegian-American backgrounds and is of general interest for American social history. The study by Professors Wilt and Naeseth is similarly one of broad importance. The story of two dramatic societies active in pioneer Chicago, told with a wealth of precise detail, is interpreted in terms of the need felt by immigrants for "identifying themselves with their native culture while adapting themselves to a new life."
Professors Paulson and Bjørk offer a documentary study of a pioneer school and language controversy and, in doing so, impress upon the reader the fact that certain records, drawn from that historical treasure house, a frontier newspaper, are precious not merely for the particular story that they unfold, but also for their general implications. A wide social setting also suggests itself for the interesting story of the Norwegian Quakers in a middle western community as told by Dr. Swansen.
In 1866 Laur. Larsen, the president of a Norwegian-American college, made visits to the universities of Wisconsin and Michigan and to such American colleges as Beloit and Oberlin. His diary, in which every entry bears witness to his precise observation and discerning intelligence, has been turned into English by his daughter, Professor Karen Larsen. It is a document of permanent interest as well for its comparative view of American higher education in a primitive era as for its faithful picture of a clear-thinking Norwegian-American leader who was deeply concerned about building up a good college among his own people.
It is only a step from social history and education to literature, as the reader will find upon examining Professor Jorgensen's analysis of the forces that influenced Rølvaag as a maker of novels. He is portrayed as a writer whose "works are deeply genuine and full of the realities of life." It is interesting to turn from this essay, which reveals genius finding an outlet in creative writing, to Dr. Hougen's article on the late Magnus Swenson, which pictures genius expressing itself creatively in "engineering, invention, manufacturing, business administration, and public affairs." Both are appraisals of Norwegian-American achievement; and both, it may be noted, deal with men who were active in the work of the Norwegian-American Historical Association.
The volume closes appropriately with a bibliographical contribution, the sixth in the invaluable series compiled by Mr. Hodnefield --- an annotated list of recent articles and books relating to Norwegian immigration and Norwegian-American life.
Theodore C. Blegen
University of Minnesota