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Message from the Chair

Submitted by Debbie Sue Olson on September 24, 2014 - 9:25am
Jan Sjaavik

At the beginning of the 2014-2015 academic year we are both looking forward to what the new year may bring and reflecting on the department’s recent achievements. We are most grateful for our many excellent students, the support which we have received both on campus and from the local community, and for the hard work and well-deserved achievements of our faculty. 

During the past academic year we saw a record-breaking four students receive their Ph.D.s, two in Danish (Kirstine Kastbjerg and Melissa Lucas), one in Norwegian (Maren Anderson Johnson, who now has a faculty position at Luther College), and one in Swedish (Ralitsa Lazarova). The topics ranged from Kastbjerg’s exploration of the Gothic in Danish literature, through Johnson’s discussion of literature dealing with the biography of Henrik Ibsen and Lazarova’s analysis of the role of emotion in recent Swedish fiction, to Lucas’ path-breaking analysis of Scandinavian electronic literature. Also, Liina-Ly Roos received her M.A. with a thesis dealing with the theme of human trafficking in Scandinavian literature and film. This is an exceptional record, both in breadth and in depth, for a department of our size, and it certainly attests to the talent, dedication, and hard work of our graduate students. Our enrollments across the board also remain very strong, with roughly 2,400 students taking our courses during the year. Students vote with their feet, as they say, and we are gratified that they have found their way into our courses in such numbers. Our former students are also doing very well; for example, Ellen Rees has just been promoted to full professor of Nordic literature at the University of Oslo.

The scholarly output in the department remains high, as our faculty has recently published several important books and a number of articles and essays. The Power of Song, by Guntis Šmidchens, holder of the Kazickas Family Endowed Professorship in Baltic Studies, was published by the University of Washington Press. Professor Šmidchens’s work has received much attention, particularly in the Baltic States, where he has been knighted twice. The Cinema of Aki Kaurismäki: Contrarian Stories, authored by Professor Andrew Nestingen and published a year ago by Columbia University Press, has now been very favorably reviewed both in the United States and the Nordic countries, where it has been deemed “essential reading for critics, scholars and fans alike.” The Creative Dialectic in Karen Blixen’s Essays – On Gender, Nazi Germany, and Colonial Desire, authored by Marianne Stecher and published by the University of Copenhagen’s Museum Tusculanum Press a few months ago, has become nothing short of a Copenhagen media sensation with extensive coverage in several Danish newspapers (including a newspaper cartoon commenting on the media response to the book).

During the past year the department has hosted a number of visiting scholars, including Hilmar Þór Hilmarsson and Lars Sætre. This fall we are hosting two scholars from Lund University in Sweden, Hans and Ann-Kristin Wallengren, the holders of a Visiting Lectureship from the American-Scandinavian Foundation. This kind of scholarly exchange is crucial to the intellectual health of our department, and we are grateful to these colleagues for spending some of their time with us. A very special visitor was Olivia Gunn, who through the generosity of a donor served as the John P. Morgridge Lecturer during Spring Quarter, 2014.

Our work would not be possible without the support that we have received both on campus and in the community. College of Arts and Sciences staff have been invaluable to us, and Debbie Olson, our Department Administrator, makes our office run smoothly and in conformity with university policy. We are particularly grateful to Dean Robert Stacey and Divisional Dean Michael Shapiro of the College of Arts and Sciences for securing permission for us to conduct a search for a new Assistant Professor with emphasis on Norwegian language and literature. This is a major event for us, as the last time such a search was conducted was thirty-seven years ago! We are also grateful for the support that we have received from the Scandinavian Department Advisory Board, under the leadership of Andris Rogainis and Rick Peterson.

Ultimately, however, it is the faculty who are on the frontlines of our teaching and research efforts. Our permanent faculty consists of Lotta Gavel Adams, Christine Ingebritsen, Terje Leiren, Jan Sjåvik, Marianne Stecher, Andrew Nestingen, Guntis Šmidchens, and Ia Dübois. In addition whe have four Visiting Lecturers who served here during 2013-2014 and will remain with us during the new year, Ausra Valanciauskiene (Lithuanian), Iveta Grinberga (Latvian), Desiree Ohrbeck (Danish), and Lars Jenner (Icelandic Sagas and Mythology). Our previous Visiting Lecturer in Finnish, Taija Hämäläinen has returned home and has been replaced by Ilmari Ivaska, while Kyle Korynta is currently teaching at St. Olaf College but may rejoin us later this year. We thank you all for your great work and wish you the best for 2014-2015.

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