Norwegian migration to Latin America between 1820 and 1940
A multidisciplinary research project called “Desired immigrants - Frustrated Adventurers? Norwegians in Latin America, 1820 – 1940” (NiLA) was initiated in 2008 involving researchers in Norway and Latin America. Central to the project is the development of a database that will provide information about almost every Norwegian who traveled to Latin America during that period.
Club Remeros Escandinavos (Scandinavian Rowing Club)
Tigre, Argentina (1937/38)
The project is supervised by Steinar A. Sæther, associate professor at the Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages at the University of Oslo and participants include researchers and doctoral fellows a the universities of Bergen, Oslo and Stavanger, the Norwegian Emigrant Museum at Hamar, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (Argentina) and Museo do Imigrante in São Paulo (Brazil).
The NiLA project was initiated as a continuation of a research project conducted from Unifob Global at the University of Bergen called “In the Wake of Colonialism: Norwegian commercial interests in colonial Africa and Oceania”(WAKE). Synnøve Ones Rosales, associate professor at the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Bergen and NiLA researcher, explains that the idea was to use the experiences from the WAKE project to look at the same types of problems in Latin America.
Coffee stevedores outside Berent Friele's quarter in Santos, Brazil, probably about 1920 (Photo: Friele)
- However, for some of us, the commercial angle became too narrow, and the group split up to concentrate on two different research projects, of which ‘Desired Immigrants - Frustrated Adventurers? Norwegians in Latin America 1820-1940’, is one, she says.
Rosales explains that the principal goal of the NiLA project is to improve our understanding of the emigration of foreigners to and their migration patterns within Latin America, using Norwegians as an example. Important questions addressed in the study concern class, occupation, geographic mobility within (and beyond) Latin America, cultural identities, representations of host and home countries, and political outlooks and activities within their new host societies.
According to Rosales, the project will produce new knowledge about the reception of migrants in Latin America and the interaction between migrants and host communities there. Furthermore, it may serve as a methodological model for other studies on migration.
A key element of the project will be the development of a database with geographic mobility indicators, biographical information and links written by or about almost all the approximately 5 000 Norwegians who migrated to Latin America during the 120 year period. The database ”Historical emigration to Latin America” (HULA) is being developed by the University of Oslo's Center for Information Technology (USIT) and is based on a number of lists and sources found in Norwegian and Latin American libraries and archives, or prepared by the researchers.
According to Rosales, the database is a unique resource for the study of migrant communities, and it will provide the basis for a range of studies on demographic and cultural aspects of the Norwegians in Latin America, also beyond the confines of this project.
- The sources are abundant, and thus they permit us to follow Norwegian migration patterns more easily than those of other migrant groups. The project will produce knowledge which can be used in a comparative perspective and which is relevant for the study of other migrant groups, she explains.
For whom is the NiLA project interesting?
- It is interesting for anyone studying migration in a Latin American context, as it will provide new knowledge on the topic and give a basis for comparative studies. It can also be interesting for families of the migrants, both in Latin America and Norway, as they may be able to acquire knowledge about their ancestors, says Rosales.
According to Rosales, as far as they can see, there are no general characteristics of the Norwegian immigrants in Latin America between 1820 and 1940, which is why they constitute such an interesting group to study.
Regatta party at the Scandinavian Rowing Club in Tigre, Argentina (1937/38)
- There are few cases of organized Norwegian communities or colonies in Latin America, and a great variety of individual destinies. Moreover, the immigrants seem to have had very varied backgrounds, and it also seems like an unusually high percentage were women. However, as the research project proceeds, we will be able to give a better answer to this question, she explains.
NiLA is a long-term project and due to the dependency of funding, it’s difficult to say exactly how it will proceed. If funding is obtained, two doctoral fellowships will be announced. Likewise, funding is needed to carry out research in Latin America by the Norwegian participants in the project.
- The database is already under construction, and the collection and systematization of sources are in progress. Several of the researchers involved have started their individual research on different aspects of Norwegian migration to and within Latin America, which will result in a series of articles to be published in an anthology. Two seminars are being held this autumn, one in Bergen and one in Oslo, both with Latin American participation. In Oslo, they have started a course on Latin American migrations on master level, and in time, we hope it will be a joint project between the Universities of Oslo and Bergen, says Rosales.