A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840-1940

A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840-1940

A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840-1940

A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840-1940


In this unique longitudinal study of how a divided people relate to one another, H. Arnold Barton outlines dilemmas created by the great migration of Swedes to the United States from 1840 through 1940 and the complex love-hate relationship that resulted between those who stayed and those who left. During that hundred-year period, one Swede out of five voluntarily immigrated to the United States, and four-fifths of those immigrants remained in their new country. This study seeks to explore the far-reaching implications of this mass migration for both Swedes and Swedish Americans.

The Swedes were a literate, historically aware people, and the 1.2 million Swedes who immigrated to the United States offer a particularly well-documented and illuminating case study. Barton has skillfully woven into the text translations of little known published and unpublished Swedish sources from both sides of the Atlantic, to embody- in haunting human terms- both what was gained and what was lost through emigration.

Past studies have traditionally shown ethnic mobilization to be a defensive reaction against the exclusive nativism of resident Americans. Barton convincingly demonstrates, however, that the creation of a distinctive Swedish-American identity was at least equally an expression of the immigrants' need to justify leaving their homeland to their former compatriots and to themselves by asserting a rightful and unique place within the Swedish national community. He concludes that the relationship between Swedes and Swedish Americans was essentially similar to that experienced by other peoples divided by migration, and that the long debate over the United States and emigration at its deepest level reveals both hopes and fears most conspicuously symbolized by America and "Americanization" in an increasingly integrated world undergoing the relentless advance of modernization.


What happens to a people--the product of an ancient culture and way of life--when it becomes divided and separated through a great overseas migration? More specifically, how do the two parts of such a divided people relate to each other? What ideas do they have regarding each other as the process continues and as time and circumstance cause them to develop in separate ways of their own? The purpose of this book is to seek answers to such questions in the case of the Swedes during the period of their great migration, between roughly 1840 and 1940.

Such a study necessarily involves a threefold complex of attitudes: toward America as a country; toward emigration as a phenomenon; and toward the emigrants as people. Much scholarly attention has been given to European views of America, and some to those regarding emigration. Rather surprisingly, almost none has been devoted to ideas in the lands of origin about the emigrants themselves, nor, conversely, to the views of the emigrants regarding their former compatriots.

In Sweden, historians have until recently tended to concentrate upon analysis, mainly statistical, of the emigrating group, whereas American scholars have been primarily interested in the Americanization of the immigrants and their relations with other elements of the American population. It is the transatlantic relationship at the human level that provides the focus of my investigation.

Briefly stated, emigration created a complex love-hate relationship between those who sought new lives in the New World and those who remained in the old homeland. The emigrants generally felt, and indeed lovingly cultivated, nostalgia and pride in the land of their birth. Yet they often keenly resented conditions that had compelled them, in their view, to leave it, and hence those institutions, traditions, and elements of society that they held accountable for such conditions. Their former compatriots . . .

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