Images of America – Norwegians in their Western home

Between 1860 and 1960 more than 800,000 people left Norway for North America. “Amerikabilder” tells their many fascinating stories.

By Berit Hessen
Norwegian American Weekly

“Amerikabilder.  Den norske Vesterheimen 1860–1960” (Images of America: Norwegians in their Western Home 1860-1960) is an interesting travel of discovery through 100 years of Norwegian immigration to America and Canada. The 320-page large format book consists of the immigrants’ personal pictures, as well as postcards, notes and newspaper clippings that portrays their new  life in America. Most of the 270 carefully selected photos have never been published before. The unique images were first collected by Steinar Hybertsen and then Knut Djupedal wrote the text in Norwegian. This rare book is published by Aschehoug, one of Norway’s largest publishing houses.

Knut Djupedal (60) has been director of Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Ottestad (Hamar), Norway since 1991. Previously he worked as  Research Associate at The Research Council of Norway. He was in charge of the project “Hjemvendte emigranter i  Norge” (Emigrants who returned to Norway). Djupedal received his Bachelors in History from The University of Akron, Ohio and his Masters in History from the University of Oregon.  In 1985 he received his Masters in Folklore at the University of Bergen.  He emigrated to America in 1955 at the age of six, together with his parents and three siblings. The family settled in North Canton, Ohio. When he was 22 years old he returned to Norway, and settled in the small home town of Selje.

“I emigrated twice in my life,”  says Djupedal on the phone with Norwegian American Weekly. “To integrate in Norway as a 22-year-old was tougher than arriving in America at the tender age of six,” he expresses.  Djupedal, who  is without a  doubt Norway’s leading authority on emigration to America, has done a marvellous job describing the Norwegian immigrants lives in “Amerikabilder.” As one of the people who built  The Norwegian Emigrant Museum, Norway’s only national museum devoted solely to the history of emigration to overseas destinations, he knows the immigrants stories better then anyone. He has previously published several articles about Norwegian migration history in Norway and America, but this is his first book.

Steinar Hybertsen (58) left Hønefoss, Norway for America in 1973 with a skiing scholarship in his pocket. He was an amazing cross-country champion. He received a Bachelors degree in  Business Administration in Wyoming, and a Masters degree in International Marketing in Phoenix in 1979. Until 1993  he worked for several international companies, but today  he’s a renowned Norwegian-American film producer. During the last 16 years his company, Shybert Productions has produced several one-of-a-kind documentaries about Norwegian-Americans. He resides in Edwards, Colo.

Letters from America

In the book we learn about the early Norwegian settlers and their valuable “Letters from America” (Amerikabrevene).  With these letters the immigrants expressed their inner thoughts and feelings, their experiences and the many challenges in their new country. The letters were extremely valuable and a reliable source of information. Many of them were published in newspapers in Norway, and it didn’t take long before Norway was well educated about the new world. At the end of the 1850s some of the letters contained photographs. More and more people made to journey to America in search of new land and economic opportunity. The Norwegians established their own communities and named them “Vesterheim” and “Det Norske Amerika.”

“Amerikabilder” features pictures and precious stories about interesting  individuals as well as colonies and communities across America. The unique photographs paint an outstanding portrait of how the Norwegian communities were built, how the immigrants lived, how they dressed and how they struggled to survive. Djupedal describes the immigrants desires, courage, hopes and dreams, their  toil and misfortunes as well as the dangers they encountered. He does this in a splendid and interesting way. Hybertsen has chosen a great variation of photos that will immortalize the largest wave of Norwegian immigration to America. Because of the great work of  Hybertsen and Djupedal, thousands of valuable stories will never be forgotten. “Amerikabilder” should be on everyone’s bookshelf!

This article was published in the Norwegian American Weekly on Dec. 26, 2009.

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