Studies and Records
Published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association,
Copyright © 1943 by the Norwegian-American Historical Association
This is a time, if I may use a phrase from Mr. John Storseth's philosophical reminiscences of pioneering, for "taking stock of our real possessions," and one step in the process is to study our past.
The values at stake for America in the war now raging are deeply rooted in the past. Things taken for granted in days of peace seem infinitely precious today because they are challenged by ideologies that seek to tear out living roots and destroy civilization itself. We cannot take those accustomed things for granted when we are fighting to keep them for the America of today and tomorrow.
This is a time, therefore, to know our history and traditions, to understand and cherish the values projected into the life of the present from the life of the past. As we sense the unbroken continuity of past and present in our civilization, we gain new understanding of our debt to those who dreamed the America we know, pioneered the frontiers of the past, fashioned the institutions and ways of American life, and made sacrifices for a myriad gains that, however small and humble individually, made up the totality that we call American civilization.
The words of Frederick Jackson Turner interpreting the first World War are even truer today than they were when he first uttered them a quarter of a century ago. "If this nation,'' he said, "is one for which we should pour out our savings, postpone our differences, go hungry, and even give up life itself, it is not because it is a rich, extensive, well-fed, and populous nation; it is because from its early days America has pressed onward toward a goal of its own; because it has followed an ideal, the ideal of a democracy developing under conditions unlike those of any other age or country." America was at war, he believed, that the history of the United States might "not become the lost and tragic story of a futile dream."
It is in this setting that it is of vital importance for us to know our backgrounds and to understand the sources and nature of our strength in ideas and ideals and practices. The papers herewith presented are unpretentious contributions, but they bear upon one of the living traditions of America--the tradition of pioneering. Here is a vivid narrative of pioneering in the Dakota country by one who knew that pioneering at first hand. Here is an interpretation of pioneering on the Pacific Coast by a "philosopher of the folk" who is concerned about the "implications of the past and the prospects of the future." Here is the record of an observer who watched the processes of immigration a few years after the Civil War, when throngs of people from the Scandinavian countries were seeking the freedom and opportunity of America. Here are fragrant memories of life in a rural log-cabin parsonage; an "America letter" of the late 1860's penned by an immigrant deeply impressed by American religious and civil liberty; the story of a frontier immigrant community in Missouri; a study of "The Singing Church" which pays tribute to pioneer devotion and courage; and an appraisal of a modern engineer who pioneered scientific frontiers. These and other records fill out a volume that adds something to our understanding of immigrant pioneering as part of the larger story of America pressing onward, as Turner said, "toward a goal of its own."
Theodore C. Blegen
University of Minnesota