Nordic Immigration Conference: 15-18 March 2016

This past week I attended and spoke at the “Nordic Immigration in the Pacific Northwest from Then to Now” conference (also called the Nordic Immigration Conference) held in Seattle 15-18 March. The conference was hosted by the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. I was only able to attend two of the three days but I thought I would give a short synopsis of the presentations I did hear and some outcomes of my attendance.

First of all, this was similar to an academic conference with papers presented in 30 min. blocks of time–20 min. for presentation and 10 min for Q&A. The typical day for the conference included presentations in the morning with a lunch break and a tour of some site important to our Scandinavian heritage in Seattle in the afternoon.

Wednesday, 16 March
Keynote presentation was by Diana Pardu from the Ellis Island Museum on “Becoming a National Immigration Museum.” Diana discussed the history of the Ellis Island Museum and site, with special focus on its exhibits and how they have evolved over time. She also discussed the upcoming changes as the exhibits become more comprehensive, including Castle Clinton, and more global in its diversity rather than ethnically segregated. The Nordic Heritage Museum is raising money for a new museum and I am sure that many of her ideas were ones that will be incorporated into the new building.

I was the first of the short presentations with my “The ‘Push’ and the ‘Pull:’ Decision-Making of the 19th Century Emigrant.” I had to cut my usual 50 minute presentation drastically.  I covered the genesis of the terminology “push” and “pull” as it relates to migration (Ravenstein, 1889) and then discussed some reasons why our ancestors made the difficult choice to emigrate from their homeland. It seemed a good topic for the kick-off of the other academic papers. (Diana Pardu nodded her head vigorously when I spoke about how immigrant’s names were not changed at Ellis Island!)

2016 0316 NICHarald Runblom, Emeritus Professor in History, Uppsala University, spoke on “Ways to WA: Scandinavian Migration to the Pacific Northwest in a Global Perspective.” This presentation was very compatible with mine. Harald noted that I had covered some of the principles he was covering but he went on to  look more closely at emigration statistics and global migration patterns. Of particular interest to me was a group that traveled from Sweden > Finland > Estonia > Ukraine > Sweden  before being disenchanted with Sweden and emigrating to the US in the early 1900s! It explains my Swedes who traveled from Sweden > Iowa > Canada.

Next up was Steinar A. Sæther, Associate Professor, Latin American Studies, University of Oslo who spoke on “Norwegian Sailors, Whalers and Workers between Tierra del Fuego and Alaska, 1848–1914.” Steiner described the voyages of a Norwegian sailor who traveled multiple times in the 1800s up and down the western coast of the Americas from Alaska to Chile. He noted that Chile was such a popular spot that a group of Swedes asked Chile if they could establish a colony with their own governance, money, language etc.  Chile government denied their request.

The day ended with Terje M. Hasle Joranger, Lecturer in North American Studies, Department of Literature, University of Oslo, on “Creating a Sense of Place: Norwegian Ethnicization in the Pacific Northwest, 1870–1900,” a look specifically at the town of Poulsbo, Washington, and its Norwegian settlement and heritage.  He spoke of the maintenance of the Norwegian culture and the eventual assimilation but with physical remembrances in the names of businesses, a Sons of Norway chapter, the church and the festivals of the town.

Friday, March 18
Friday morning, we learned about the establishment of the University of  Washington’s department of Scandinavian Studies from Terje Leiren, Professor and Sverre Arestad Endowed Chair in Norwegian Studies Department of Scandinavian Studies, in his paper, “Establishment and History of the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, 1909–2015.  Most are integrated with Germanic Studies; UW is one of those with with stand-alone programs: University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-Berkeley being the other two.

2016 0318 NICThe history of the Swedish newspapers in the Puget Sound region was also interesting. Ulf Jonas Bjork, (and UW alum) Professor, Department of Journalism and Public Relations, School of Liberal Arts, Indiana University—Indianapolis, covered the mercurial life of a Swedish language newspaper as it moved from Seattle to Tacoma to eventually broaden to be the Puget Sound Posten. His paper, “The Role of the Swedish-Language Press in Tacoma’s Swedish Immigrant Community, 1889–1935,” was a vivid reminder of the importance and unfortunate demise of a foreign language paper.

Knut Djupedal, Director of the Norwegian Museum of Migration, reviewed the life of a single male Norwegian who immigrated, worked his way from Minnesota to Montana to Seattle and then “boomeranged” back to Norway when he was, as Knut said, “not able to pick up the gold off the streets.” Not every immigrant settled and had the “good story” to tell the descendants.

Hans Wallengren, Ph.D. Lund University, Dept. of History and the Swedish Emigrant Institute ended the conference with a presentation of his research into the ethnic composition of “Hoovervilles” in Seattle during the depression in “Scandinavians in the Pacific Northwest—Not Only a Success Story,” which told of the struggle of young Nordic men during the 1930s. The composition of the shantytowns, especially the one south of the (now) Starbuck’s headquarters was disproportionately not native-born and Scandinavian.

So, you can see the range of topics was wide and the lecturers came from a wide variety of Scandinavian country. Each brought unique perspectives to the issue of migration of individuals. It certainly broadened my knowledge of the migration patterns (much more varied than my Sweden > Midwest mindset). There was discussion at the end of the conference to publish the individual papers, so stay tuned.

I met and re-established contact with a number of individuals from the Seattle Nordic Heritage Museum and two of my students from my previous class at the NHM were in attendance due to my inclusion of information about the conference in my post-presentation website–that was cool. I also now have a contact for Pacific Lutheran University as I would love to teach a regular Swedish genealogy class there but we will see if that comes to fruition.

Note: NIC also had the best goody-bag ever: two books, two CDs, the requisite pen and paper and two samples of Aquivit! 🙂

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: worked on the above presentation and the one for next week’s Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association joint conference. I have to submit my proposals for National Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies this weekend for their conferences in 2017. I did get my syllabi submitted on time to Jamboree and solidified my two speaking engagements when the family visits Cape Cod in July.


4 comments on “Nordic Immigration Conference: 15-18 March 2016

  1. Great review! Thank you for all the highlights of immigration patterns and the interesting conference doings. I really love the Nordic Heritage Museum and hope that the new building will have good displays though it will not have the charm of the present layout in an old school. By the way, the building (Webster School) has been landmarked and will be turned back into a school with preservation of the wonderful wood hallways, stairs and the building itself as-is.

  2. Terje Leiren says:

    Jill, Thank you for your comments on the excellent Immigration conference. A brief correction: The only stand-alone Departments of Scandinavian Studies in the USA are: University of Washington-Seattle, University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-Berkeley. Most Scandinavian programs throughout North America are included with Germanic Studies departments.

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