Norwegian Immigrants Research

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

March 21, 1997

Norwegian Migration Fulbright Scholar's Topic

By Dana Erickson
UW-RF News Bureau

The untold story of Norwegian emigrant and Native American relationships during the settlement of Wisconsin and Minnesota will be the subject of a sabbatical by UW-RF associate history Professor Betty Bergland.

Bergland has received a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to undertake a project titled, "Norwegian Immigrants, Norwegian Americans, and Native Americans in Wisconsin and Minnesota, 1837 to 1997: Rethinking Meanings of Immigration."

Bergland will study the migrations of emigrants from Norway to Wisconsin and Minnesota. She will also will take a detailed look at emigrants from Telemark, Norway, who first settled in Dane County in Wisconsin. As Chippewa and Sioux ceded land over the following decades, the Telemarkers continued to migrate through La Crosse, then , to Minnesota's Houston County and finally to Moland Township in Clay County in the Red River Valley of the North.

"There's another story that hasn't been told, and I want to tell that story," Bergland says of her research.

The components to be researched in the project include: the relationships between Norwegian immigrants and Native Americans, the effects of federal land policies on Native Americans with regard to land cessions, and the role of racial ethnicity cultural values in the relationship between Norwegian immigrants and Native Americans.

"My grandmother immigrated to America at the age of 17, and I was captivated by her stories." Bergland says of her own fascination with her grandmother's emigrant recollections.

A young girl's captivation of her Norwegian grandmother turned into a life long career. Bergland has her doctorate of American Studies from the University of Minnesota, and specializes in immigration experiences, U.S. social history, and women's history in the United States. Her doctoral dissertation focused on immigrant women autobiographies, using four Eastern European women as a basis for developing a theory of reading first-person historical documents.

The Fulbright Research Grant will involve three months in Hamar, Norway, at the "Norsk Utvandrermuseum" (The Norwegian Emigrant Museum.) There, Bergland will search immigrant letters for a sense of what was written from the New World back to Norway. Specifically, she will be looking for allusions to local Native American tribes.

Bergland will also research at the "Riksarkivet" (state archives) in Oslo for more detailed information of the Telemarking immigrants who were the first Norwegians to arrive in the Red River Valley.

She will also contact Norwegian scholars at the Nordic Institute for Women's Studies and Gender Research in Oslo. These relationships will be established to learn about other research related to Bergland's project: emigration studies, the history of relations between Saami and Norwegian peoples, racism in 19th and 20th century Norway, and feminist approaches to these issues.

"What isn't being said here?" is the question Bergland says she hopes to answer, referring to the prolific written history of Norwegians.

She notes that the Norwegian American Historical Association has extensively published history and the writings of Norwegian immigrants. However, from 1925 to the present there are few references to Native Americans in relationships with Norwegians.

Bergland also seeks to capture the voices of immigrant women.

This Fulbright Research project is one of personal interest and intellectual challenge for Bergland. She plans to spend sabbatical year doing research; afterwards the ongoing research and writing of her findings may take up to 10. The research will be presented at academic conferences, in scholarly articles and eventually in a book.

Bergland is the ninth faculty member from UW-RF to receive the Fulbright Scholarship. Sen. William J. Fulbright of Arkansas initiated the program for students in 1946, which was expanded through the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961 to include teachers and researchers.

The international exchange was formed to boost academic and professional development and to increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and other countries.

Some 1,600 faculty scholars have been included in next year's program, which is administered by the U.S. Information Agency under policy guidelines established by the presidentially appointed J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Scholarships are awarded through open competition, with final selections made by the Foreign Scholarhsip Board. More than 40 foreign governments share in the funding of these scholarships.

"Why do people question intellectual work, I guess, is the bigger question," Bergland says of her quest. "I am trying to understand the truth about immigration and the complexity of this. What is the legacy?"



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