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In the book, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, Theodore C. Blegen reviews Norwegian-American history throughout the years 1825 to 1925. The author tells the story of these immigrants by making use of journal entries, official documents, and other historical documents. The author wanted to accurately portray the struggle that many Norwegian-American immigrants had to go through in order to adapt to living in The United States of America and show how well they did it. This book was of interest to me since I’ve developed a recent fascination with Scandinavia. Not knowing much about them or how they’ve integrated into American culture, this book seemed to supply plenty of information on the subject.
In this book the author illustrates in great depth the extensive struggles the Norwegian-Americans faced in migrating. It also shows how good they were at adapting and how well they succeeded. In explaining how they adapted to the language change he writes “Such a tendency, he realized, was common among emigrants of all nationalities, but the Norwegians, he thought, ‘seem to have a special knack at it” (Blegen 82). This seems to go along with the common theme in the book starting with adversary and ending with the Norwegians prevailing. Both of Blegen’s parents immigrated from Norway. Blegen, being fascinated with his ancestry, went on to study and write about their history. He mentions in his book the immense amount of pride they held for themselves and their country. April Schultz writes about President Calvin Coolidge speaking to eighty thousand Norwegian-Americans praised their contributions to American society and even acknowledged their claim that a Norwegian explorer actually discovered America long before Christopher Columbus. A local journalist reported the crowd’s response: ‘The great roar that rose from the Nordic throats to Thor and Odin above the lowering gray clouds told that the pride of the race had been touched’ (Schultz 1265). Taking this into account, the author’s desire in wanting to show the triumphs of his people becomes clear.
Despite the author clearly having a bias and being born of two Norwegian immigrants, he still makes use of a plethora of sources and provides plenty of information to construct a sound argument. At the bottom of nearly every page, the author lists multiple references to letters, speeches, books, and even recordings that he has used. Upon reading them, I noticed that the sources came from many different places and people, and he didn’t seem to rely on any of them heavily. The author doesn’t include much information about the suffragettes and how much they were involved, but it seems that they were very proud that their homeland was the first sovereign nation in the world to give their women equal voting rights. The Scandinavian suffragettes used this information to encourage Americans to follow suit, Anna Peterson explains: A banner that boasted of Norway’s suffrage achievements acted as a clear demonstration of ethnic pride to the Norwegian Americans who saw it. The banner also served as suffrage rhetoric shaming Americans into realizing that they were behind other countries in the progression of women’s rights. (Peterson 14). She mentions Scandinavian “ethnic pride”, which they freely and proudly displayed without having to experience any kind of racial discrimination. This was true up until World War One, when European immigrants were reluctant to label themselves as anything other than “American”.
Many historical and pivotal events in American history are reviewed in this book, one of these being slavery in the south and the controversy it caused within the Norwegian Lutheran Church. This is interesting and necessary in the author’s efforts of describing this particular group of people because it illustrates how much they believed in freedom, and how they dealt with such social issues. The author describes their eagerness to protect the freedom of their new home country. “New and old, the Norwegian immigrants responded cheerfully and with enthusiasm to president Lincoln’s call for volunteers when the war broke out.” (Blegen 389). In this book, Blegan briefly mentions that some Norwegians lived in Texas, and among those, a few owned slaves. I thought that he may have been trying to minimize this fact in order to maintain their noble appearance, but upon reading a journal about Norwegian immigrants in Texas, the author describes a woman who simultaneous speaks out in pride and support of her country, yet condemns slavery in the south. Payne also mentions “Mrs. Waerenskjold’s husband eventually was assassinated because of his vehement anti-slavery views” (Payne 202). This is one of many examples provided that exemplify the progressive behavior of the Norwegian-Americans.
Author Theodore C. Blegen wrote this book to demonstrate the Norwegian-American immigrant’s trials, and ultimately, triumphs. I knew near nothing about the topic before reading this book. I found it very interesting to see how these people’s lives affected, and were affected by, major events I am familiar with. The book is organized chronologically and flows well from chapter to chapter. It includes abundant sources and evidence to support all its claims. Apart from being very informative, I found the book to be remarkably interesting as well. I would say that the author did convince me that Norwegian-Americans were highly successful, and I would recommend it to anyone of similar interest.
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