Author to visit Marine
As a boy growing up in Stockholm, Sweden, Klas Bergman was captivated by what he describes as “the epic stories of immigration” told by Vilhelm Moberg, Swedish author of the four-book series “The Emigrants.”
“I read those four books, and became fascinated with what happened with the immigrants, and their destinies,” he said of the protagonists who have come to represent the experiences of hundreds of thousands who settled in Minnesota between 1850 and 1930. “Eventually I came here myself and studied, then got started as a journalist and writer.”
As Bergman details in his new book, “Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics,” these immigrants quickly wove themselves into the political fabric of their new home, leaving a legacy evident today.
Bergman will discuss the book later this month in Marine with Dag Blanck of Uppsala University, Sweden, and Steven Schier of Carleton College in Northfield (see sidebar for details).
According to Phil Anderson, president of the Swedish American Historical Society for 28 years and a Marine resident for the last four, Bergman is in a unique position to offer such a perspective.
“Klas has been in very interesting places,” he explained.
As a student in California in the 1960s and later as a Washington correspondent, Bergman had a close view of the civil rights movement, Vietnam War, Watergate, the Reagan years and 9/11.
“He’s an American citizen,” continued Anderson, “but he has an interesting perspective that’s both on the inside and outside, and comparative. His (2013) memoir is made up of observations of decades of life in America and reporting. His grasp of political events is really impressive.”
According to Bergman, dual interests in immigration and politics led the research process for “Scandinavians in the State House.”
“I was talking to some Minnesotan friends who said maybe I should write something about Scandinavians in Minnesota,” Bergman recalled. “There was a lot already written about it, but I’m also very interested in politics and have covered politics for various newspapers. So … I combined my two big interests, immigration and politics, and found, quite frankly, a fascinating story of how all the Nordic immigrants very quickly became involved in Minnesota politics and played a big role from early in the state’s history.”
The book explores themes around Scandinavian-Americans’ evolving political allegiances, which shifted from pro-Union Republicans in the era of Civil War to the Farmer-Labor Party and eventually the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party when the two merged in 1944.
“I’m trying to tell this story about how they developed,” Bergman explained. “The breakthrough year was 1892, when Minnesota elected its first Scandinavian governor. After that there were a tremendous number of Scandinavian governors. … But I’m also trying to argue, is this Scandinavian political legacy still alive? Or is the political culture of Minnesota changing because the immigrants are coming from other countries? Somalia, Laos, Latinos. What’s happening to Minnesota’s politics now?”
Anderson, who was instrumental in bringing Bergman to the St. Croix Valley for the April 21 event, described “Scandinavians in the State House” as “very well researched.”
“It demonstrates something people can readily see and understand in participating in Minnesota’s political life, and explains how it came to be this way,” he said. “(Bergman) interviewed more than 90 people for the book, and his research incorporates that oral dimension. As a journalist, he knows what questions to ask and has the ear for the answer.”
For Bergman, the research offered its share of surprises, from the sheer number of Scandinavians who threw themselves into all levels of government to the many, largely unremembered, radicals who came from Nordic countries.
“I didn’t know very much about these people and Minnesota politics,” said Bergman. “As a journalist you dive into things you don’t know much about and that’s part of the fun. … It’s been a really exciting project. I traveled all over Minnesota and interviewed a whole bunch of Minnesotan politicians: Walter Mondale, Arne Carlson, Albert Quie. It was a fun and interesting project.”
‘Scandinavians in the State House’
Swedish-American author Klas Bergman will discuss his new book, “Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics” with Dag Blanck of Uppsala University, Sweden, and Steven Schier of Carleton College, Northfield.
When: Fri., April 21 at 7 p.m.
Where: Marine Village Hall (121 Judd St)
Details: Free. Light refreshments will be served. Books will be available for purchase courtesy of Valley Booksellers.