Sons of Norway
Researcher to study local Norwegian-American identity
By Kris Leonhardt
CENTRAL WISCONSIN – From 1836 to 1935, Wisconsin was a primary destination for Norwegian emigrants. Today, those roots run deep and a research fellow from the University of Bergen, Norway, hopes to better understand that, through a mutual-education presentation to be held in central Wisconsin.
“Until the 1840s, fewer than 1,000 Norwegians lived in Wisconsin, but by 1850, 8,600 lived in the state–nearly two-thirds of the total Norwegian population in the whole United States. By 1860, this figure had grown to 44,000 and the high concentration of communities in the Rock River Basin formed the core of Norwegian settlement in the U.S. until the 1860s,” an essay from the Wisconsin Historical Society stated.
“The Scandinavians in Portage County include, in the order of their numbers, the Norwegians, Danes and Swedes, although it is difficult at this point in time to determine whether the Danes by 1900 outnumbered the Swedish immigrants or whether the opposite was true. Both were a minority group as compared to the more numerous Norwegians,” Malcolm Rosholt stated in “Our County Our Story.”
The presentation will be held in Marshfield, which might not be a nucleus of Norwegian immigration, but serves as an epicenter for larger settlements in Portage and Clark counties, including Curtiss and Neillsville.
Trond Espen Teigen Bjoland, a PhD Research Fellow at the University of Bergen, works with migration history. His PhD project focuses on the development of Norwegian-American identity in the Midwest.
Bjoland will present “Negotiating a Norwegian-American Identity: Migration from Norway to the USA in the 19th and early 20th centuries” at the 2nd Street Community Center Drendel Room, 211 E. Second St., Marshfield, on Aug. 23 at 6:30 p.m.
“In this presentation, I suggest that ethnic group identities were developed in a process of negotiation. By explicitly, or implicitly, discussing what it meant to be ‘Norwegian-American,’ a Norwegian-American identity was constantly being redefined. With examples from Wisconsin, this perspective will be further explored in my presentation,” Bjoland said.
“My project primarily regards understandings of what it means to be ‘Norwegian-American’ during the early twentieth century. I am interested in how Norwegian-Americans understood themselves and how they were understood by other groups in the community.”
Central Wisconsin is one of three research stops that Bjoland will make in the state, including the Stoughton and Whitewater areas.