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A Centenary of Norwegian Studies In American Institutions of Learning
    by Knut Gjerset and Ludvig Hektoen (Volume 20: Page 158)

It seems appropriate to introduce the second hundred years of Norwegian studies in the United States with a brief historical review and a few words about the present situation. The subject has been touched upon several times in books and periodicals, but never treated exhaustively, and the time may soon be ripe for a complete volume based on recent surveys as well as on the rather meager source material from the earliest period.

The first chair of Norwegian in the New World was established at New York University in 1858. The Reverend Paul C. Sinding, who was Danish born, was commissioned by the university to teach both Danish and Norwegian upon demand. Only three years later he asked to be relieved of his duties on the grounds that he had never been able to form a class. Whether he tutored some students privately or informally during this period has not been established, but he was actively engaged in research, and published a history of Scandinavia which may have contributed to the awakening of a consciousness of such studies on the American scene. Mean while, Augustana College was established as early as 1860 in Chicago and offered Norwegian courses from its very beginning. At university level the language was not revived until 1870, when it was introduced into the University of Wisconsin catalogue; classes apparently first materialized, however, under Rasmus B. Anderson in 1875. After these hesitant beginnings Norwegian spread to other universities and colleges (for example St. Olaf College at Northfield in 1874) and held its ground firmly until 1917. {1} [159]

About the turn of the century, Norwegian was also introduced into certain public high schools in areas that had a large Scandinavian population, with Story City, Iowa, blazing the trail. By 1918 the subject had been adopted by nineteen high schools in Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, and combined enrollments numbered about 550. Although precise figures are not available, the numbers certainly increased steadily until American entry into World War I signaled virtually total interruption of foreign-language studies (except French) in American schools of all levels.

So far as I know, no systematic survey devoted exclusively to Norwegian studies in American universities, colleges, and high schools has ever been made, and the first complete survey for the whole Scandinavian field was not undertaken until 1940, when Esther Chilstrom Meixner collected the material available at that time. {2} Professor Gösta Franzen and I, curious to follow developments after the disruptions of World War II, initiated a series of surveys which we have repeated at four- and three-year intervals since 1947, publishing our findings periodically in Scandinavian Studies, the quarterly publication of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study. {3} From time to time I have also pre pared reports on courses in Norwegian alone, based on data which could not be included with the all-Scandinavian surveys; but none of these reports has appeared on this side of the Atlantic. {4} Happily Franzen and I were able to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our collaboration on this project as the first hundred years of Scandinavian studies in the United States were being rounded out.

We have found that Norwegian, and indeed all Scandinavian studies, are undergoing a shift from the lower to the higher levels of learning. This means simply that they have [160] reached a stage of development which might have been predicted by anyone who could foresee the course of immigration history. Under the influence of strong and populous first-generation communities, the mother tongue is first nurtured (where Scandinavian is concerned) to keep the church sup plied with a clergy that can continue divine services in their original form, and to maintain close contact between children and parents. As the first-generation communities diminish in size and number or become integrated with other American societies, they somewhat relax their hold over the youngest generation and make their influence felt more strongly in the advanced culture of the native community itself. Assuming that American secondary schools in general continue to regard French, German, and Spanish as “standard” languages, we should expect all minor languages eventually to disappear altogether from this level. In small independent colleges -particularly denominational schools - they would normally be retained only so long as these institutions are characterized by a specific immigrant culture. In universities they would gain an ultimate degree of acceptance corresponding to the native American evaluation of their relative significance in world culture. At first this may seem an entirely predestined course of events, but I hope to demonstrate that those who are interested in promoting Scandinavian studies in the United States need not accept a fatalistic attitude. Let me first, however, briefly summarize the position of Norwegian studies at the present time.

The latest survey showed a total of 867 enrollments in Norwegian-language courses at institutions of all kinds - a decrease of over 35 per cent since the end of World War II. Of the three categories of schools, the colleges have shown the least tendency to change, except in the boom year 1946. On the other hand, the decline in the high schools is regularly matched by gains in the universities, so that in 1957, for the first time, enrollments in the former are exceeded by those in the latter. [161]

How this over-all drop has been occurring in spite of substantial increases at university level is revealed in the following table:

ENROLLMENTS IN NORWEGIAN COURSES, 1939-57

 
1939{5}
1946
1950
1954
1957
Universities
195
241
160
140
217
Colleges
ca.
348
776
594
528
479
High Schools
599
350
298
235
171
Totals
ca.
1142
1367
1052
903
867

Using as a measuring stick the number of institutions offering Norwegian-language courses, we find this relationship between the three categories of schools even more striking:

NUMBER OF INSTITUTIONS OFFERING NORWEGIAN LANGUAGE COURSES, 1924-57

 
1924{6}
1939{7}
1946
1950
1954
1957
Universities
11(10?)
8
9
14
14
13
Colleges
?
9
9
9
9
8
High Schools
?
11
5
7
4
4
Totals
11(10?)
28
23
30
27
25

The situation with regard to courses in Norwegian literature, history, art, and so forth, is more complex and difficult to evaluate. In the first place, one can speak only in terms of total enrollments, not of numbers of individual students, be cause the likelihood of finding one and the same student enrolled simultaneously in two or more different courses is fairly great. In the second place, the figures for an entire academic year may often be highly misleading because in so [162] many courses of this kind, students are permitted either to drop out or to register in the middle of the year. Finally, there is the situation that very few of the courses which present Norwegian culture from the nonlinguistic viewpoint bear the pure Norwegian label; more and more schools are setting up courses under such general designations as “Scandinavian Masterpieces” or “Scandinavian Life and Culture,” evidently for the purpose of meeting competition from other subjects and of attracting as extensive an interest as possible. Just how much Norwegian is involved in a course like “The Modern Scandinavian Novel” is impossible to determine without an on-the-spot study of every such course.

In the autumn term of 1957 there were only nine universities and five colleges (no high schools) offering nonlanguage courses dealing solely with such subjects as Norwegian literature. These represented 108 enrollments for the universities and 117 for the colleges - a total of But the total for the whole Scandinavian field, including many courses in Scandinavian literature, history, or culture which naturally presented Norwegian matter in varying detail was as high as 575. This figure also included courses devoted exclusively to Danish, Icelandic, or Swedish nonlanguage subjects.

The following list indicates where pure Norwegian offerings are to be found, as well as their duration in terms of semesters (S) or quarters (Q):

University of California
(Berkeley)

Norwegian 6S
Plays of Ibsen 1S
Romanticism in Norway 1S
University of California
(Los Angeles)
Danish and Norwegian 2S
University of Chicago
(Chicago)
Norwegian 3Q
Conversational Norwegian 1Q
Norwegian Composition and Conversation 1Q
University of Kansas
(Lawrence)
Norwegian [163] 1Q
2s
University of Michigan
(Ann Arbor)
Norwegian 2S
Readings in Modern Norwegian Prose 2S
University of Minnesota
(Minneapolis)
Norwegian 6Q
Norwegian Conversation 1Q
Ibsen and Beginnings of Modern Drama 1Q
University of Nebraska
(Lincoln)
Danish and Norwegian 2S
New York University
(New York)
Ibsen 1S
University of North Dakota (Grand Forks) Norwegian 6S
History of the Norwegian People 2S
Norwegian Literature 2S
Ibsen 2S
University of Oregon
(Eugene)
Norwegian 6Q
University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) Norwegian 2S
Norwegian Drama 1S
Norwegian Novel 1S
University of Texas
(Austin)
Norwegian 2S
University of Utah
(Salt Lake City)
Directed Reading in Norwegian 3Q
University of Washington
(Seattle)
Norwegian 3Q
Norwegian Readings 3Q
Supervised Reading in Norwegian 3Q
Conversational Norwegian 6Q
Norwegian Composition 6Q
Introduction to Norwegian Literature 3Q
Modern Norwegian Literature 3Q
Ibsen in English Translation 1Q
Ibsen (Seminar) 1Q
History of Norwegian Literature
[164]
1Q
University of Wisconsin
(Madison)
Norwegian 4S
Norwegian for Travelers 1S
Ibsen and His Contemporaries 1S
Augsburg College
(Minneapolis)
Norwegian 2S
Bethany Lutheran College
(Mankato, Minnesota)
Norwegian 4S
History of Norwegian Culture 2S
College of the City of New York (New York) Norwegian 2S
Spoken Norwegian 2S
Concordia College
(Moorhead, Minnesota)
Norwegian 2S
Norwegian Literature 2S
Luther College
(Decorah, Iowa)
Norwegian 4S
Practical Norwegian 1S
History of Norway 1S
Henrik Ibsen 1S
Norwegian Literature 3S
Norwegian-American History 1S
Pacific Lutheran College
(Parkland, Washington)
Elementary Norse 2S
Norse Language and Literature 2S
St. Olaf College
(Northfield, Minnesota)
Norwegian 6S
Tutoring in Norwegian -
Survey of Norwegian Culture 2S
Ibsen in English Translation 2S
Waldorf College
(Forest City, Iowa)
Norwegian 4S

In addition, four semesters of Norwegian language are offered in each of the following high schools: North and Roosevelt in Minneapolis, Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, and Bethany Lutheran College High School Division in Mankato, Minnesota.

Several of the above-listed institutions offer a variety of additional courses described as “Scandinavian” literature, history, and so on. For the purposes of this article, however, I am limiting myself as far as possible to subjects which may be strictly interpreted as purely Norwegian. Two courses titled “Ibsen and Strindberg,” for instance, have not been [165] considered; and the same is true of a course titled “Ibsen and His Scandinavian Contemporaries,” as well as one called “Holberg and Oehlenschlager.” Those who are interested should consult the complete list of Scandinavian courses in our November, 1958, report. {8}

A balanced view of Norwegian studies in the United States cannot be obtained without reference to their position among the other Scandinavian subjects. The table given below shows pertinent enrollment figures for the autumn of 1957. {9}

ENROLLMENT IN SCANDINAVIAN SUBJECTS, AUTUMN, 1957

 
Dan- ish
Nor- we- gian
Old
Norse, Ice- landic
Swed- ish
Total Lan- guage
Non- lan-- guage
Grand Totals
Universities
28
217
29
259
533
306
839
Colleges
27
479
0
289
795
269
1064
High Schools
0
171
0
192
363
0
363
Totals
55
867
29
740
1691
575
2266

It is a striking thing that enrollments in Norwegian so greatly exceed those in Swedish, a condition which has prevailed ever since the surveys were started. Yet the Norwegian population figures in the United States are far lower than the Swedish. This discrepancy between population and enrollment figures seems to be explained in part by what Einar Haugen calls the “index of retention”; that is, the degree of retention of the mother tongue after emigration. Haugen has shown that Norway leads Sweden and Denmark according to the ratio 5:4:3. {10} This means that Norwegian communities would tend to foster language courses in their own schools (for example, Concordia College, St. Olaf College) to an even [166] greater degree than Swedish or Danish communities. And in deed the figures show that the over-all Norwegian lead is due entirely to heavy enrollments in the colleges. The universities, on the other hand, being generally less influenced by immigrant groups than the particular kind of college here considered, should be less affected by the “index of retention” and more by population figures and other factors. This explains why Swedish leads in the universities even though it takes only second place in the over-all figures. The slight Swedish lead in the high schools is unexpected and may be the result of chance; statistical method loses much of its reliability when the figures are low.

Some support for the application of the language-retention theory to college enrollments is provided by figures on the ancestry of students in Scandinavian courses. A study of limited scope in 1955 revealed that of 154 students of Scandinavian subjects in seven colleges, 97 per cent of those enrolled in Norwegian were of Scandinavian ancestry as against 87 per cent of those enrolled in Swedish. {11}

It was interesting to note, in the same study, that “33 of the 545 students of known Scandinavian descent had at least one parent of some other Scandinavian nationality than that represented by the subjects studied; in a few cases the entire ancestry was of another Scandinavian nationality. Sixteen students of Norwegian were part Norwegian and part Swedish or Danish . . . and six students of Norwegian who had no Norwegian blood whatsoever were wholly or partly of some other Scandinavian descent (e.g. half Danish, half Swedish; or half German, half Swedish)." {12}

In several respects there is reason for optimism on the part of those who are interested in promoting Norwegian studies in the United States. Although the over-all enrollment figures have been declining, the universities have been gaining and the colleges showing a tendency to stabilize. There is every [167] evidence that teaching standards are improving, which will give Norwegian courses an advantage in the eyes of school administrators. The very titles of the offerings seem to bear some promise in this direction: many of the old romanticizing titles are giving way to more realistic and sober ones; and some which looked dangerously like “snap” courses are being absorbed into more comprehensive and businesslike ones. A fine new generation of professionally-trained instructors is finding placement where the ranks of the veterans and path-finders are thinning. And the textbooks and study materials, thanks to those same veterans and pathfinders, are rapidly becoming the envy of other academic groups in quality if not in quantity. George T. Flom wrote in 1927 of the “utter inadequacy of the present textbooks” and added that “the existing difficulties must soon be remedied or some of the most important parts of the work in Norwegian will suffer and it may become necessary to allow them to lapse.” {13} In the thirty-odd years since this warning was issued, language, literature, and history textbooks of extraordinarily high quality have been produced by such scholars as Theodore C. Blegen, Einar Haugen, Theodore Jorgenson, and Karen Larsen; the American-Scandinavian Foundation has contributed volume after volume of background material; the Norwegian-American Historical Association has swelled its stock of price less published records; and an increasing number of Norwegian names and Norwegian subjects have found their way into the journals of American scholarly societies.

I mentioned earlier that there is no need for a fatalistic attitude. What can interested persons do, then, to influence the course of Norwegian studies in the United States? Many of the teachers of Norwegian already have excellent ideas for this program and some are in the happy position of being able to apply them in practice. Meanwhile, I would submit the following suggestions for general consideration and for discussion where possible: [168]

1. No teacher of Norwegian should stand alone in his work. He should belong to, first of all, a suitable American professional society like the Modern Language Teachers’ Association, and, in addition, to as many Scandinavian-American scholarly organizations as he can afford. Token membership, however, is of little use. Such organizations as the Norwegian-American Historical Association, the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study, and the American-Scandinavian Foundation need active support; only if their members attend their meetings, read their publications, and participate in their membership drives can these groups promote Norwegian studies.

2. All professional organizations should exert their influence on communities and school administrations for the adoption of more liberal attitudes towards language teaching in general and Scandinavian languages in particular. There is a movement afoot in the United States for the promotion of language teaching at lower school levels; this should be supported. {14} College and university administrations should be pressed hard to give Norwegian the same credit standing as other languages, both for entrance and for graduation requirements.

3. Co-operative and cordial relations should be maintained among Scandinavian colleagues. I am very happy to say that in every case that I know of, the representatives of the different Scandinavian cultures are working together as good brothers, gaining mutually in strength as a result. I can cite as an example the fact that at the end of the last war Norwegian was reintroduced at the University of Chicago on the initiative of a Swede, who has since given it every conceivable advantage to let it flourish on a par with Swedish; or that in the same period Danish and Norwegian programs have been steadily expanding under the leadership of a Swede in California. An unfortunate split, which for some years badly [169] weakened one of the few existing Scandinavian societies, crossed national lines entirely; there were Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes on both sides in the disagreement. Incidentally, new blood of all three nationalities has now mended this split.

4. Those who are active in Norwegian programs should keep abreast of all language “reforms” in Norway. Let every man freely hold to his own opinion in this tragic aspect of Norwegian culture; but on the other hand let no one deafen himself to the realities of language development - artificial as well as natural - in the “old country.” Official American recognition will inevitably be given to official Norwegian “reforms.” Opportunities should be found at meetings of professional societies to exchange opinions about the most realistic position to be adopted in the classroom or the lecture hall. Practices should be standardized to the extent that local conditions permit. The teacher who is confronted with continuous language changes that indicate further moves away from Ibsen and Bjørnson needs contact with others who are “in the same boat,” needs a forum for objective discussion of the problem. The annual meeting of a professional society is the place for this. The Norwegian-American Historical Association should set up a nationwide advisory committee to study and report on the effects of Norwegian-language changes on course syllabuses.

5. Scholarly work should be supported by the purchase of every new textbook or new edition of an old one. The production of competitive textbooks should be avoided as much as possible through free and open-minded advance discussion of plans for such work.

6. A congress of Scandinavian societies should be arranged in the Middle West-in 1960 if possible-for the purpose of developing practical procedures for intersociety co-operation and support, and of promoting proper recognition of Scandinavian course credits. This congress could continue its work by establishing an American association of Scandinavian societies.

Notes

<1> For historical data I am largely indebted to Esther Chilstrom Meixner, The Teaching of the Scandinavian Languages and Literatures in the United States (Philadelphia, 1941). See also George T. Flom, “Norwegian Language and Literature in American Universities,” in Studies and Records, :78-103 (Northfield, 1927).
<2> Meixner, Teaching of the Scandinavian Languages.
<3> Scandinavian Studies, 19:239-260, 23:173-198, 27:173-195, 28:99-108, 30:157-177 (August, 1947, November, 1951, November, 1955, August, 1956, November, 1958).
<4> Aftenposten (Oslo), September 24, 1947, November 4, 1952, October 25, 1956.
<5> The figures for 1939 are from Meixner, Teaching of the Scandinavian Languages. 35, 36, 68, 69, 91.
<6> Flom, in Studies and Records, 2:78-103. Flom did not state specifically whether the Norwegian language was among the six Norwegian courses offered at the University of Illinois. Assuming that it was, the correct figure for this column would be 11.
<7> Meixner, Teaching of the Scandinavian Languages, 35, 36, 68, 69, 91.
<8> Hedin Bronner and Gösta Franzen, “Scandinavian Studies in Institutions of Learning in the United States,” in Scandinavian Studies, 30:164-175 (November, 1958).
<9> Bronner and Franzen, in Scandinavian Studies, 80:176.
<10> Einar Haugen, The Norwegian Language in America, 1:288 (Philadelphia, 1958).
<11> Hedin Bronner, “Student Motivation in Scandinavian Courses in the United States,” in Scandinavian Studies, 28:100 (August, 1956).
<12> Bronner, in Scandinavian Studies, 28:102.
<13> Flom, in Studies and Records, 2:79.
<14> Material on this subject can be obtained from the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Washington, D.C.

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