In recent times Norway has seen a shift from being an emigrant country to becoming a country of net immigrants, i.e. Norway has received a higher number of immigrants as compared to the number of emigrants since the 1960s. Immigration and emigration are two sides of the same process, as an emigrant from one country is an immigrant in another. Consequently, it is important to know the country’s own emigrant history in order to understand its immigration.
The concept of freedom is a common motivation for those who envisage a future in a distant land. For example, freedom of religion was the prime motivation for the first group of emigrants in 1825. freedom and futureare key themes for the 2025 commemoration, based on the fact that emigration has resulted in cultural exchange and cultural development across national borders and between population groups now and before. Therefore, differences and community are also significant key concepts.
On June 13 The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence of the Parliament of Norway visited the Norwegian Emigrant Museum with its representatives Anniken Huitfeldt, the chair of the committee (the Labor Party), and Hårek Elvenes (the Conservative Party). Along with the committee secretary Eivind S. Homme and representatives from Anno Museum, the foundation board of the Norwegian Emigrant Museum, the Hedmark County council, the municipality of Stange, and Stange Historical Society, the representatives were given an introduction to the goals of the museum and its plans for the bicentennial commemoration of Norwegian emigration in 2025.
The museum director gave the particpants a tour of the museum archives and the museum buildings. They also met historian Daron W. Olson of Indiana University East in the USA, who did research in the museum archives, and the museum intern Annie Smith of Brigham Young University in Utah, USA.
In a letter of appreciation following the visit, the parliamentary committee chair Anniken Huitfeldt wrote the following;
«We thought (…) that it was especially of interest to gain an insight in how you are planning your preparations for the significant bicentennial commemoration of Norwegian emigration to the USA in 2025. The museum has an important task in illuminating the cultural development in immigrant countries and their ties to Norway and Norwegian culture, and to gain knowledge from this fact and tie these findings to recent immigration to Norway.»
The chair also sent her wishes for the continuing work and preparations for the celebration in 2025.
Anno Norsk Utvandrermuseum (Anno Norwegian Emigrant Museum, abbreviated NEM) has taken the lead in organizing a cooperative national commemoration of the bicentennial of organized Norwegian emigration. In October 2019 the NEM, Anno Museum, and the Norwegian Ministry of Culture began planning a national commemoration, which will be anchored in a committee coordinated by the NEM. In January 2020 NEM organized a meeting, inviting relevant organizations and institutions from throughout Norway (see list of participating organizations below). Many representatives of organizations and institutions attended, lending their support to the project.
Emigration affected every community in Norway, the development of Norwegian society, and Norway’s contact with the surrounding world. Today migration is a phenomenon which has great impact on our society, on our role in the world, and how we understand and discuss our identity.
The adaptation process among recent immigrants in Norway may partly be compared to the process of adaptation among Norwegian immigrants in America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This applies not only to the degree of identity formation among the immigrant generation and their descendants, the connections to the majority society and other minorities in the receiving society, gender roles, and the immigrants’ contributions to their adopted society, but also to different points of view among immigrants and the majority society regarding immigration.
Based on the above, the commemoration should be broad in scope and include the local and national levels, international cooperation, and both cultural activities and research. It should also include contemporary migration and its impact on Norwegian society as seen in relation to the history of emigrants from Norway.
We envisage that the commemoration should engage the public and involve relevant institutions, create an interest in emigration history, and also contribute to a debate about the meaning of migration for us today.
NEM will take on a national coordinating role and will encourage broad cooperation. To coordinate a broad national commemoration and to exhibit engaging content demands continuous efforts and the marketing of activities leading up to 2025. The work will include:
- Anchoring and participation — to establish and run a national committee for the commemoration of the event, to encourage broad involvement, and to serve as a task force to provide efficient production of ideas and to follow through on these ideas.
- Coordination and facilitation of events — to support initiatives throughout the country, facilitate cooperation, and organize presentation and marketing of activities to everyone.
- Development and innovation — to be a driving force behind activity and presentation and to develop a new and lasting exhibit on emigration for the public at the Norwegian Emigrant Museum as national museum on emigration.
- Research — to establish and follow up on a national research program supported by the Norwegian Research Council.
The commemoration has two long-ranging purposes: to create an interest in emigration history and to offer engaging activities for the public during the jubilee year:
- To bridge differences and distances, between land and cultures, past and present, and between generations by creating interest and understanding of migration.
- To promote tolerance of cultural differences by regarding emigration in a new context of contemporary society in addition to understanding immigration in a historical context.
- To develop a national exhibit on Norwegian emigration at the Norwegian Emigrant Museum, which sheds light on emigration as a phenomenon with new perspectives. These perspectives include several continents and more recent migration streams, with presentation of the theme adapted to various age groups.
- To continue the role of the Norwegian Emigrant Museum as an institution for the public, researchers, and organizations, which will contribute to a multicultural community and to social debate.
To develop a national exhibit on emigration and expand the role of the Norwegian Emigrant Museum as a meeting place strengthens the purpose in point 1 above and creates a beneficial effect to society.
A goal for the commemoration is to establish connections with members of Norway’s multicultural society by highlighting their differerences and similarities with Norwegian emigrants.
As a basis to create awareness and engagement, both in the population and in research, the museum network has suggested several relevant perspectives on emigration, among others:
- The history of emigration; what is an emigrant, and how has emigration changed throughout history?
- Migration among children, adolescents, and older people.
- The influence of emigration on community building and community development abroad and in Norway; migration and transnational encounters as a source of innovation and enlightenment.
- Common traits of newcomers among earlier emigrants and contemporary immigrants; the individual experiences of immigrants earlier and today.
- Similarities and differences in relation to contemporary debates on integration, including peer pressure between retaining ethnic identity and the degree of assimilation to the host society.
- Various forms of freedom, including economic, religious, and political freedoms, and forms of increased prosperity.
- ”Whiteness”— various steps of acceptance and the immigrants’ identification with Anglo-American culture.
- Indigenous population and settler colonialism in a transnational perspective.
- Globalization, cultural encounters, and multiculturalism in a long-term perspective.
- Poverty and the wish for a better outcome; was it acceptable then, but not today?
In its capacity as the national museum for Norwegian emigration history, the Norwegian Emigrant Museum has established networks with cultural and historical institutions and organizations focused on migration. The network includes various volunteers and professionals who focus on cultural heritage and emigration, both on the local and national levels.
The Norwegian Emigrant Museum has also established cooperation with Norwegian-American organizations and institutions in the United States, which are also planning a commemoration of Norwegian immigration in 2025.
The network of cooperating partners provides a good basis for a national commemoration that engages broadly and promotes transnational cooperation.
The network already represents a starting point for a coordination of activities with the Norwegian Emigrant Museum as a hub. Anno Museum, the museum organization of which the Norwegian Emigrant Museum is a member, also represents a strong professional organization, which will offer various forms of support to the Norwegian Emigrant Museum as coordinator.
The Chairman of the Board of Anno Museum, Knut Storberget, has agreed to chair a national committee.
The work prior to the commemoration and along the way must be organized in a manner that ensures a broad geographical, demographical, and professional participation from various institutions and organizations.
National Commemoration Committee
A national committee is needed to provide a breadth of participation and a basis for the planning. The network of cooperating partners has agreed that Anno Norwegian Emigrant Museum should provide organizational leadership, and the proposed committee will be composed of these representatives.
It is also desirable that a smaller task force works to make proposals to the committee.
We emphasize the combination of public service and volunteerism. Volunteer work is necessary in order to ensure a broad engagement and involve collaborators on the local level.
The mobilization of volunteers will be coordinated by an administrative team (secretariat). We aim to establish a position as coordinator in 2021, with a goal to increase capacity closer to 2025. Anno Norwegian Emigrant Museum will oversee the work of the administrative team.
The administrative team will support the operation of the national committee and the task force. It will also work to establish contacts and maintain cooperative relationships in conjunction with the commemoration, write applications regarding funding for the commemoration, and serve other administrative tasks. The department will maintain a website with a digital calendar of activities throughout the commemoration. In this manner, the team also will provide significant support for local organizations.
In the years prior to the commemoration, the administrative team will prepare activities both prior to, and during, the commemoration through research and networking. Both communication and marketing are significant tasks in this respect, including branding the commemoration and developing a range of activities for various audiences.
The commemoration will include a broad emphasis on research. Migration scholars from various institutions of higher learning — including museums and migration centers in Norway — have established a network with participants from research institutions outside of Norway.
Research will be organized separately from the planning of activities, but will be coordinated with the plans for the commemoration in 2025. It is an aim to connect research activity to relevant programs. Leading up to 2025, research will increase, so that activities in the jubilee year can leverage and present these new findings.
The Norwegian Emigrant Museum aims to form a resource center for the research network and serve as host to researchers, students, and other research fellows. This is based on the fact that the museum has rich research material, research competence in their staff, and lodging facilities for visiting scholars. The NEM also is part of a broad network of instititions, both in the USA and Europe, and has started an internship program with Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
The emphasis on the 2025 commemoration of Norwegian emigration is a significant contribution in fulfilling the vision of a Norwegian White paper (Stortingsmelding) 8 (2018-19). This document underscores that culture strengthens community-building and that cultural life can contribute significantly to the creation of tolerance, understanding, and insight. The Norwegian Government’s long term plan for research and higher education 2019-2028 also emphasizes migration as a separate theme.
Among the network of individuals and organizations that have emigration and migration as their purpose, there is a broad consensus to cooperate in conjunction with the commemoration and agreement that Anno Norwegian Emigrant Museum is to have a coordinating role.
The aforementioned meeting at the NEM on January 15, 2020 saw the gathering of a variety of organizations and institutions, including Norsk Migrasjonsforum (Norwegian Migration Forum), Kommunenes Sentralforbund (The Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities), Kulturvernforbundet (The Norwegian Federation of Cultural Heritage Organizations), Nordmanns-Forbundet/Norwegians Worldwide, Vestnorsk utvandringssenter (Western Norway Emigration Center), Norges Museumsforbund (The Norwegian Association of Museums), Norsk Folkemuseum (The Norwegian Folk Museum), Sametinget (the Sami Parliament), Arkivverket (The National Archives of Norway), Universitetet i Oslo (The University of Oslo), Universitetet i Stavanger (The University of Stavanger), and the city of Stavanger. Attendees unanimously gave their consent to the initiative, to the proposed schedule, and to the role of the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in the continuous work on a national emigration jubilee.
In conjunction with the planning of the bicentennial of Norwegian emigration in 2025, Norwegian Emigrant Museum cooperats with a number of organizations and institutions in countries where Norwegian emigrants settled. First of all this applies to the United States. Norwegian Emigrant Museum coordinates activities on the national level in Norway with activities among Norwegian American organizations and institutions in the United States. Below you will find links to the international network of Norwegian Emigrant Museum partners in the USA and other countries.