S.2 E.2 Sweden’s Response to Covid-19, plus an Immigrant Success Story

Learning for Life @ Gustavus host Greg Kaster interviews historian and Scandinavian expert Byron Nordstrom.
Posted on July 23rd, 2020 by

Distinguished historian of Scandinavia and Gustavus Professor Emeritus of History and Scandinavian Studies Byron Nordstrom on Sweden’s novel response to the novel coronavirus, the life of Swedish immigrant Swan Turnblad in Minnesota, and learning and teaching at liberal arts colleges.

Season 2, Episode 2: Sweden’s Response to Covid-19, plus an Immigrant Success Story

Transcript:

Just a couple of points about this episode with Byron Nordstrom. First, during our conversation, there are spots when Byron’s voice and mine overlap, or are out of sync. Also, Byron mentions two now retired Gustavus colleagues, Tom Emmert and Lawrence Owen. Tom is Professor Emeritus of History and Lawrence is Professor Emeritus of English. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Beyond the ongoing COVID pandemic, one country has been making considerable news for its plan for dealing with the virus. As the May 15 headline in the New York Times pointedly summed up, “Sweden stayed open, a deadly month shows the risks.” Rather differently, the Swedish author of an op ed published that same day the Times announced, “I live in Sweden, I’m not panicking.” In part because of my institution’s Swedish heritage—Gustavus was founded by Swedish Americans and is named for a Swedish king—I’ve been eager to speak with someone who can help me understand Sweden’s response to the virus. Who better than my longtime colleague Byron Nordstrom, Professor Emeritus in History and Scandinavian Studies at Gustavus. Nobody knows more about the history of Sweden and that of Scandinavia broadly, or about the Scandinavian heritage and history of Minnesota.

A prolific and distinguished scholar who won the faculty scholarship award at Gustavus, his book publications include The Swedes in Minnesota, the Dictionary of Scandinavia Studies, which he compiled at edited. The History of Sweden and Scandinavia Since 1500, forthcoming in the second edition.

He’s also a past president of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study, and was for 20 years editor of the Swedish American Historical Quarterly. More recently until the pandemic forced his temporary closure, you can find him some days with his public history cap on leading tours of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.

On a personal note, Byron was a generous and wise mentor to my wife Kate Wittenstein as newcomers to Gustavus, the History Department, and Minnesota. Byron, it’s great to have you on the podcast.

Byron Nordstrom:
Thank you Greg, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Greg Kaster:
Now, I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say. You and I are both historians and so we’re interested in the past. Why don’t we start with your past. How is it that you came to be interested in Scandinavian history, to become a professor at Gustavus. I assume more was involved than just having the last name Nordstrom.

Byron Nordstrom:
The last name Nordstrom didn’t play a role in it. I didn’t grow up really thinking of myself as being Scandinavian or Swedish. Which may be surprising. I didn’t belong to any organizations, I didn’t learn how to do Swedish folk dancing, or didn’t sing the national anthem on the 6th of June every summer. It was really kind of accidental. I went to Lawrence College, then Lawrence University in [inaudible 00:03:15] Wisconsin. In my senior year did a honors thesis on Swedish neutrality during the Second World War. That plugged me into where I was going to go, I guess, in future studies in history because from there it was six months in Sweden and then back to the University of Minnesota where one of the five areas I had to designate in my PhD program was modern Swedish history. I guess the rest of it is history from there.

I’m being pretty circumspect in doing this. A lot of it I think was just accident. Why was I a history major? I started at Lawrence as a pre-med person and I quickly discovered I wasn’t going to make it in that. Then I wandered in and out of several other majors, English, Religious Philosophy and settled on history. We couldn’t even declare a major at Lawrence until we were spring of sophomore year. So you were really compelled to sample for the first two years you were there. Maybe that’s a good idea, I know a lot of places don’t do that. A lot of students come in saying, this is what I’m going to major in and they lock themselves into that. Lawrence wouldn’t let you do that.

Then, probably I fell into history as much as anything because of two professors who I felt were really very good. One who taught me to write and the other who could engage people in a 70 minute lecture without a single note. The second one was a guy named Bill Cheney, he was an institution at Lawrence. He taught there for 49 years and he was a Medievalist with a photographic memory. You would go in to talk to this guy about a paper and he would lean back in his chair and look at you and say, “Well, if you look on page 13 of the February 2002 issue of blah blah blah you’ll find the following,” then he would quote the article he was citing and send you on your way. It was just uncanny, this guy. Anyway, I always tried to do classes without notes as a result of this guy’s influence.

Greg Kaster:
Sorry to interrupt, I remember you, that is advice you gave me early on because you may remember, I used to type out lectures, it was crazy. I am happy to report to you within the last five, seven years or so I [inaudible 00:06:03] without notes. It works, it’s great. Thank you.

Byron Nordstrom:
I’m glad. Somedays it sure didn’t work for me. You go in, oh my gosh, what am I going to talk about today? Then I’d pull out my slide projector and it would rescue me. I suppose my slide projector was my video programs of the past. So I had a collection of slides that filled two great big four inch back binder, three ring binders. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them now because of course they’re useless. PowerPoint has replaced all of that. That was kind of my notes, those slides. “Well, let’s look at this,” “Let’s talk about this.” In some classes it worked.

So anyway, the Swedish connection and the Scandinavian connection is not out of heritage, it’s out of undergraduate interest that then blossomed into a broader interest. I’ve always been a kind of generalist. If somebody says, “WHat’s your narrow focus?” I don’t have one anymore. You’re forced to do one when you do a doctoral dissertation. Mine was on the Swedish trade union movement and Swedish foreign policy in the 1930s. Yawn. After I got out of that I tend to be much more interested in studying centuries or broad movements or big periods. I love teaching general courses and didn’t particularly love teaching very narrow specific ones.

Greg Kaster:
Did you plan to or hope to teach in a place like Lawrence? Or was that [crosstalk 00:07:41]

Byron Nordstrom:
That was my hope. I would have loved to have gone back there, which wouldn’t have been a good idea at all I don’t think. They should never hire their graduates I don’t think. It’s too much inbreeding. But I loved the place, I loved the environment that Lawrence provided. I loved the communities that college provided and I think that’s one of the magical things about small liberal arts colleges. You go to [inaudible 00:08:10], Wisconsin where my wife went and there’s 42,000 students and your community is maybe your dorm area, maybe your sorority, maybe a few of your majors. But other than that you don’t have this close knit conversation. I remember Larry Owen in the English Department always talked about the conversation that goes at liberal arts colleges and it may involve a faculty, it may involve students, it may involve students and faculty, there may be multiple conversations.

One of my favorite parts of Lawrence, and I went there by pure accident. I applied to Stanford which I didn’t get into. Tom [inaudible 00:08:53] went instead. Lawrence was the place a mother up the block recommended to me. She said, “Why don’t you try there?” Drove over in the middle of summer to look at parched grass and visit with some people and decided it would be a good place. Anyway they had a program called Freshman Studies. It started after the second World War and they still have this program. It’s kind of like our, I don’t know what you’re calling them anymore, first term seminars. Except that all the freshman are reading the same thing, for when I started, their entire freshman year in one of the classes they take. So you have an entire freshman class of about 250 students who are at the same time reading exactly the same book and writing essays on the same book and talking about the same book. The faculty, regardless of what your expertise is, they’re teaching these books which they may have no knowledge in whatsoever. We had to read The Uncertainty Principle, which is physics. I think I had a theologian teaching that particular section. Different teachers through the years so you cycle through maybe half a dozen different professors as well.

I tried to sell that to Gustavus and I didn’t. I wanted it only in the sense that the incoming class reads one book together and then they sit on the lawn and talk about it before classes began. But by and larger, there isn’t that oncoming conversation. I think a really import binding agent in an educational experience.

Greg Kaster:
We’re getting a little feedback, but we’ll proceed. Once you found your way in the Scandinavian history and your interest in Sweden, did you become more aware or more interested in your own ethnic background?

Byron Nordstrom:
No, I didn’t. At least not until much later. I don’t do family history for example. My own family history. I read a little bit of a family tree but I’ve never been bitten by the desire to go back to Sweden and rub shoulders with second cousins three times removed and so on. I did go back to the place that my grandfather on my dad’s side grew up, it’s a little mill site in the province of Värmland. Couldn’t really trace my mother. My mother is a hybrid. She had part Swedish but mostly Norwegian. She and my dad grew up in Wilmer, which was a polyethnic town of Germans, Dutch, and Belgians and Swedes and Norwegians and Yankees. She and dad got married, I think they probably rode them out of town on a rail because she was the Norwegian and he was the Swede and you shouldn’t do that. Anyway, that’s getting off your question.

I find a lot of this my ethnic background study kind of hokey, which may sound strange when you think that I edited the Swedish American Historical Quarterly for 20 years and that’s about Swedish American history. Some people love to do it, it’s just not something that I could get terribly interested in. I love the immigration and I love looking at individual experiences and so on. But trying to tease out my own family’s background from that was not something I’ve ever been terribly involved in. I should be but I’m not.

Greg Kaster:
For me, some of that flies into studies of heritage or even into antiquarian [inaudible 00:12:36] which doesn’t interest me either. You just mentioned immigration and that is indeed one of your Swedish immigration, Scandinavian immigration, especially to Minnesota. How would you sum up in a minute or two, the essence of the Swedish immigrant experience to Minnesota?

Byron Nordstrom:
You have to spend four hours or six hours watching all of John [Troell’s 00:13:02] films he based on [inaudible 00:13:04] immigrant series. That’s the stereotype. The immigrant comes from a little rock kingdom and finds agricultural paradise in Chisago County or Goodhue County or Carver County or down here at Nicollet County. Every Swedish immigrant just wanted to be a farmer and a housewife and raise kids and the American dream of rural agricultural success. That works for a percentage, some significant percentage of Swedish immigrants to Minnesota. But many of them, oh gosh, what they ended up doing was purely accidental. Increasingly most of them end up in cities, mainly Minneapolis and to some degree St. Paul. But also towns like Wilmer and St. Peter. They aren’t farmers, they’re shop keepers and some of them become professionals – lawyers, dentists, doctors.

You mentioned I tour guide at the American Swedish [inaudible 00:14:12], become a fascination for me and a fixation for me. I’m going into withdrawal right now because of the fact it’s closed and I can’t go up there and spew about Swan Turnblad. But if you want to study a fascinating character who … he doesn’t typify the typical Swedish immigrant experience, he typifies the exceptional Swedish experience. He comes as a seven or eight year old with his parents and they settled in the village of Vasa, Minnesota which is down near Red Wing and Cannon Falls, kind of half way in between. It’s all Swedes live there but they come late, 1868, and so the land’s all been taken so the father and his family never has a farm, as near as I can tell. He has to work. He’s a farm laborer so he has to move up the ladder.

But this young man, Swan, grows up in that town. Gets what must have been a quite phenomenal education at a school that is as near as I can tell was mostly conducted in Swedish. I just can’t find the history of it. I wish I could. Then when he’s 18 he moves to Minneapolis and he’s learned, and I think of all people Eric Norelius, who was the founder of Gustavus, is the guy who did this. Norelius, I think, he was this pastor down in Vasa and he’s spotted this kid that is smart and eager and hardworking and he got him to learn how to set type. The old fashioned way. Backwards and upside down. So when Swan Turnblad, 18 year old Swede with no income to speak up, comes to Minneapolis, gets a room in a boarding house and becomes a typesetter in a Swedish language newspaper.

He takes the first step on an absolutely phenomenal career. He becomes the richest Swedish newspaper man in American. He becomes the publishers and on and off the editor of a paper called Svenska Amerikanska Posten. The Swedish American Post. God, he’s a member of the Governor’s Honor Guard Blumquist’s in the First World War. He’s a founder of Minneapolis Automobile Club. He belongs to every Yankee organization in the city. Shriner, Elk, Mason. He builds the grandest house in Park Avenue. In many ways perhaps the most obnoxious house on Park Avenue. He does it, I think, without every borrowing a nickel. He pays for this house, as near as I can tell, out of his wallet or his checkbook. Right now I’m working on the travels of this guy. In 1895, he’s just about 30 years old, his family, he, his wife and his only child, his daughter, go to Scandinavia. They go to Europe. They leave in May, they come back in August 1895. This is the first of the trips they will make almost every two years until about 1905. So they’ll make about a half dozen of these trips. They go everywhere in Europe you can imagine.

They’re in Istanbul, they’re in Paris, they’re in London, they’re in Belgium, they’re in Berlin, they’re in Hamburg, Copenhagen. They visit the old family farm in southern Sweden. They visit his wife’s family farm in western Sweden, almost on the Norwegian border. But other than that, they are these incredible global travelers. I don’t think they ever go anywhere other than Europe. But they see all of Europe from the Dardanelles to the top of Norway. And he writes about it. He’s just a absolutely fascinating character. Here he comes as this eight year old kid to this farm town in southern Minnesota.

That’s the ideal. That’s the dream that a lot of these immigrants. Whether they were Swedes or Danes or Norwegians. Or today the immigrants who are coming to Europe seeking a better life. She sure succeeded at it.

Greg Kaster:
That is absolutely fascinating. I love reading travel literature so I’m a little envious of what you’re up to. This reminds me, just speaking about him, first of all thank you for addressing the stereotype. The stereotype of the Scandinavian immigrant to comes to farm and is a farmer. Not true, as you point out. The other thing I think that people forget is that, correct me if I’m wrong, there was fair amount of prejudice against Scandinavian immigrants, am I right about that? If so, where was that coming from? Some people I think I assume Minnesota was sort of-

Byron Nordstrom:
And always nice, right?

Greg Kaster:
Virgin birth Scandinavia or something. They were [inaudible 00:19:23]. You mentioned Turnblad having sort of assimilating, awful story about that. What kinds of prejudice existed and on whose part towards immigrants from Scandinavia.

Byron Nordstrom:
It’s not something I dealt much with and there was a very small article on a book about the Scandinavians in the Twin Cities. But compared to what some of the ethnic minorities and what we call today racial minorities face, Swedes and other Scandinavians faced rather little animosity and prejudice and so on. There were these stereotypes, the dumb Swede, the elbow-bending Irish and so on. That criticism mainly I suppose came from established white residents, mainly of urban areas where these populations mixed. Of course, many of these first generation immigrants had, like today the worst jobs you could imagine. They were the launderers, the waitresses, the seamstresses, the street cleaners, the railroad track layers, the railroad yard workers. Wonderful little book to read right now, it’s called Swede Hollow, by Swedish author. It’s been translated into English and is available I think through Minnesota Historical Press. Swede Hollow. That was an area in St. Paul down on Phelan Creek. It was, I suppose, some people would use the word ghetto. It was a very crude primitive little area, streets that were [unplatted 00:21:08], houses that were made in many cases out of scrap lumber salvaged from rail road yards and elsewhere.

But also a interesting multi-ethnic neighborhood and the people that lived down there were certainly looked down upon for a long time by the people who lived up out of the hollow. Some of them were just immigrants who can come earlier and had risen economically. Some of it came certainly from the Yankee establishment. I’m telling you about Turnblad and his mansion on Park Avenue, all of his neighbors, virtually all of his neighbors were from old established families. So names like Bell appear on house names and so on. The guy across the street was a guy named Arrington. He was an established grain merchant in town, dealt with the Pillsburys and the Washburns. So this upstart on the street, Turnblad, builds this great big house. I’ve often wondered how well he was truly accepted. He did extraordinary things but did they really include him in the inner circle.

I suspect the answer is no they didn’t. One of the extreme things he did, most Swedish immigrants were Lutheran when they came. Some were not. Turnblad was apparently and went to the Lutheran church in Vasa. But at some point around 1900 he started going to Westminster Presbyterian Church. Westminster Presbyterian was the established protestant church in downtown Minneapolis. It was when I was growing up. My parents and my family went there. This has to have been a social move on his part, again, to try to get in with this elite. So I think the elite certainly would pick on and set aside the immigrants in certain ways as they certainly continue to do.

Greg Kaster:
That’s all fascinating. I toured Swede Hollow, we did a walking tour of St. Paul a couple years ago, so I’d heard so much about that. That’s a great book recommendation, thank you.

Let’s turn to Sweden and the pandemic. Before coming to Gustavus, Sweden to me was this place of cool, progressive politics and culture. Anti-Vietnam war and I always thought  wow … When I was first reading about how they’re approaching COVID-19 I thought, hmm, maybe the Swedes really know what they’re up to. Do they? What are your thoughts about how they … as I understand it’s a plan, it’s not just throw up our hands and let the virus  [crosstalk 00:23:58].

Byron Nordstrom:
The first thing [crosstalk 00:24:00] the Swedes let their epidemiologists run the show, for the most part. So this doctor Anders Tegnell was the guy who laid out the policy or the plans for how they were going to deal with it and they did not shut the country down. Many schools remained open. You could go to your friendly restaurant in Stockholm and have dinner. You could sit in your outdoor restaurant and have a beer at night and mingle with the crowds. But on the other hand, things did shut down. Big crowd events didn’t take place. So big amusement parks didn’t operate. There’s a big one in Stockholm. Museums closed down. So they understood, these physicians understood the potentials.

The problem, and if you look at the statistics, Sweden has lost about 4500 people. 4500 deaths so far. They had many more cases than any other of the Nordic countries. But statistically it’s actually very sad in a sense. Most of the deaths, well over 4000 of the roughly 4500, have come in people over 70. It’s a staggering loss of senior citizenry. Part of this, not entirely, but part of this can be laid on privatization of senior residences and nursing homes that took place when conservative governments ran the country. They turned these facilities over to profit making organizations that didn’t pay much attention to the quality of those organizations. That’s not entirely true but it is in part. One of the things that the Swedes reported today is “Well, we really blew it in dealing with our senior citizens.” It’s like the eight people under the age of 10 in the country and 4000 over the age of 70 have died.

There’s an interesting article, there’s a new website called Nordic Info which you can poke around in if you want and it has a very interesting article in it about the Nordic response to COVID-19. Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, they closed the place down or at least they rigorously restricted interactions among people. Their death rates are significantly lower than those that were the case in Sweden. But the Swedes, why did the Swedes do this differently? This is the question that this article tries to get it. He thinks, the author is a guy named Strong, he thinks that the Swedes have a cultural difference. They are obedient. They respect their government. They are law-abiding. So if the government says and the policy of the epidemiologist says be careful, wear masks, don’t cough in people’s face, don’t congregate in large groups. Okay, we won’t. They thought that would work. Yeah, it worked sort of. But it didn’t work as well as they thought I suspect. Right now, the head of the right wing Sweden Democrat party is calling for the resignation of Tegnell. He says he’s got to go. He blew it. Meanwhile, he’s staying supportive by and large by the government, he’s being supported by the head of the ministry that deals with government cabinets or ministry that deals with health issues in the country. He’s not to blame. It was an honest effort in a sense.

Another thing interesting about Sweden is you’ll find that it’s not political. You won’t see the prime minister getting involved in this particularly. Daily reports came from Tegnell. They didn’t come from Prime Minister Löfven. It seems to still be the case. It’s hard to wrap your head around in many respects. You compare this to Iceland, I think they’ve had eight deaths. I might have the number wrong. But they closed that place down like a brick. Like a safe. But they only have to deal with 350,000 people. It’s like dealing with the population of Minneapolis in [inaudible 00:28:51] or something like that. In the entire country. So it’s a little easier to restrict movement and people know each other. It was interesting in Iceland a police officer and a epidemiologist were primarily in charge of Icelandic policy. The police officer, what he was primarily involved with was tracking people. If you came down with this disease they wanted to know exactly who you would come in contact with. It was pretty easy to do if you’re only dealing with a relatively limited population. Of course, the airport shut down, nobody came in and nobody went out.

Pretty much. They still have the occasional case, you can go to this tracking website that you can find a list. Every country in the world and how many cases on a given day and so on. The place that got zero was the Faroe Islands. I don’t think there’s been a single death on the Faroe Islands. It’s a hard enough place to get to, much less get sick there.

Greg Kaster:
You remind us that, thank you. That was a very illuminating answer and it helps me understand why Sweden has been doing what it has. You remind us that we can’t understand the approach of any country without out understanding the history behind it, including the recent history. So this conservative turn in Sweden and its impact on elder care. Also, the culture. I think of our own, as a U.S. historian, our country with it’s [seesaw 00:30:29] of individualism for example, clearly is influencing how many people, the anti-lockdown protests, for example. I find that all extremely interesting and people [crosstalk 00:30:45]

Byron Nordstrom:
It’s about four years ago.

Greg Kaster:
When was the last time you were in Sweden?

Byron Nordstrom:
We’re itching to get back, but I’m not sure when that’s going to happen.

Greg Kaster:
I’ve never been there, I want to go. Do Minnesotans really … people in Minnesota do they have a mythologized or romanticized notion of Sweden? Is Sweden really different from Minnesota? Scandinavian Minnesota.

Byron Nordstrom:
Great question. Swedes would say, “We’re different, we’re not like Minnesota.” It looks like Minnesota, the old argument. That’s why the immigrants came here because it looks like Minnesota, which is totally wrong. Sweden is a wonderful place. It’s a very friendly, easy place to visit. It’s a hard place to become very good friends with anybody. Swedes tend to be very private in many ways. Family oriented, they’re not glad-handers. Many times they think they find American tourists are loud and obnoxious. They really picked on these Swedish immigrants, these successful immigrants who’d come back. They had a nickname for them and I can’t remember what it is. They got very quickly got very tired of these braggarts who had come back and hold their successes under the noses of the Swedes. Scandinavia in general has this modis operandi, and ethos called the Jante Lagen, the Law of Jante. It’s based on a novel from the 1930s, in which you don’t brag. You don’t think you’re better than anybody else. You don’t try to stand out in the crowd. You’re part of a community. Maybe again that comes back to how they dealt with COVID. You’re part of the community so they work with each other rather than against each other.

To visit it is to visit a place that really feels like America feels like the universal world culture that is generated by universal music and universal diet and so on, that permeates at least the surface of everybody’s culture.

Greg Kaster:
I want to go, I really want to go. I want to go even more [inaudible 00:33:21].

What about our own college [crosstalk 00:33:24] Gustavus. Tell us a little bit about the origins of it’s name? Named for-

Byron Nordstrom:
Well, it was first called, I think originally it was called the Red Wing Academy because it started out in his manse or his house in Red Wing. Then it moved to East Union which is across the river west of Jordan. Today is just an intersection with a few houses. A building which is the original building that was the college, and they changed the name to St. Ansgars Academy.

Greg Kaster:
I’ve always kind of wished they kept that.

Byron Nordstrom:
Hmm?

Greg Kaster:
We should note [inaudible 00:34:02].

Byron Nordstrom:
Yeah.

Greg Kaster:
Sorry, I was going to say we should note that it was founded [crosstalk 00:34:06]

Byron Nordstrom:
St. Ansgar was a missionary to Viking age [crosstalk 00:34:11].

It wouldn’t have been an appropriate name. I say I always wish we’d kept it and not changed it to Gustavus at all because Ansgar was a nice guy who wanted to make all these east central people of Sweden and the Christians and he succeeded and then as soon as he left they reverted to barbarism. Then I think instead of being the Gusties, we would have been the Ansgies or something like that. That might have been hard to take. But we could have competed with St. Olaf and St. Thomas and St. John’s. We’re St. Ansgars! Instead we named the place after a warrior king who in many respects wasn’t a very nice guy. History can be highly selective and I’m sure that fathers of the institution thought that he’s one of the great hero kings of Scandinavian history, or at least Swedish history. Let’s rename the place after him.

I never read exactly why did we pick this. But I suspect it’s because he was such an important figure in Swedish history and pat of the history of the 30 Years War and the history of Protestantism, particularly Lutheranism in norther Europe.

Greg Kaster:
Right about the time that [crosstalk 00:35:30]. I think to me the change occurred about 1873 or something [crosstalk 00:35:36].

Byron Nordstrom:
Everybody who’s a Gustavus alum they should drive through East Union some day and see this white clapboard sided building with a sign over it that says, I think it’s something like ‘Original Home of St. Ansgars Academy.’ Underneath the siding is a log construction. The whole school, that was the school. Then of course whole name was the whole school for a long time in the St. Peter location.

Greg Kaster:
What about, while we’re on this talking about kings, [crosstalk 00:36:13] were you awarded something by King [crosstalk 00:36:16]

Byron Nordstrom:
One element of the Order of the Polar Star. It’s an award that goes to non-Swedes who have done exemplary work in the name of Sweden. So I guess it was given to me because of my work with Gustavus and my work with the Swedish American Historical Society and Scandinavian studies and all this other stuff. It was a great honor, so I have this wonderful medal that I can wear around my neck and formal occasions and a signed thing from the king. Also a picture hanging on the wall of this study, and I think I’ve worn the medal once in public and that’s when I got it. It’s in a window box with a glass cover on it. I have to give it back, I don’t have to give it back, when I die it’s supposed to go back to the Swedes. It has to be sent back. I don’t know how many people get these ever send them back. But they’ve been awarded to a number of Swedish Americans, including Bruce Karsted, at the American Swedish Institute. Then they have a different medal that goes to native Swedes who may do similar things in a foreign country. So I think Roland Thorstensson has received Swedish equivalent. Swedish citizen equivalent of this award.

Greg Kaster:
Congratulations, Roland, you mentioned Roland Thorstensson, he was [crosstalk 00:37:50]

Byron Nordstrom:
Well, he’s really the founder, Roland deserves [crosstalk 00:37:53], he hired me and then he hired Roger McKnight shortly thereafter so he [inaudible 00:37:59]. He started in me and he got the second person language and literature in Roger. Roland is the guy who did all the leg work. I was over there and the history department was like [inaudible 00:38:13] in the Scandinavian Studies Department, teaching a course or two every semester would fit into their program. It’s Roland’s program and today I think that he, his legacy is … your colleague Glenn Kranking and then the three people right now teaching Swedish in one of the most highly enrolled foreign languages at Gustavus. I think it is the leading undergraduate program among small colleges in the country. We’re almost the only one left in a sense, across the country.

Greg Kaster:
I was going to ask you about that. I think from what Glenn Kranking as my colleague, and your former student, you mentored Glenn, has said yes. For listeners, please know we have a thriving Scandinavian Studies program with all kinds of interesting events about Scandinavia program for example is just one.

Byron, I wish we could keep talking, I would love to. But before we go, one last question for you. I’m not from Minnesota, I didn’t attend Gustavus, that’s all true. Why should I care about Scandinavian-

Byron Nordstrom:
Well, you’re an intrinsically curious person. Curious people can be interested in all kinds of things. Scandinavia is a fascinating area. I was thinking we’d pass these questions out to me before and I was thinking about this. To me, Scandinavia has been a fascinating model, a kind of microcosm that can be overlayed into larger situations. So if you want to look at the role of small states and international relations, Scandinavia, any of the Scandinavian states can be plugged into that issue. If you want to look at the rise of a great power and the fall of a great power, Sweden is a wonderful example of that and it’s the kind of manageable unit to look at. There are lots of parallels. So Sweden arises and falls in the 16th and 17th and early 18th century. Compare it to France, compare it to Spain, compare it to England and you compare it to the United States. So it’s interesting area to look at. I guess that’s the answer.

Greg Kaster:
I agree. [inaudible 00:40:50] coming to Gustavus, but as I said even before just thinking about Sweden [crosstalk 00:40:54]

Byron Nordstrom:
And mysteries, murder mysteries.

Greg Kaster:
[crosstalk 00:40:58] and film, and also design. And food, you know me.  Again, I wish we could keep talking. We used to have such great conversations in our old building on campus which was ugly and horrible. But the History Department and we’d sit around and you and Kate would be smoking, it was okay then. Not now. We’d have wonderful conversations about all kinds of things as we are here. Thank you so much. I hope everyone will rush out and buy your books on Sweden and Scandinavia, read them and learn. We’ll see you back at the American Swedish Institute hopefully before too long.

 

###

Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

Leave a Reply