Tuesday, June 28, 2011

God Save the King!


To view photos from Lillehammer, click here.
To read an amusing story, skip to the end.

I can hardly remember names and precise events of Titus Livius' History of Rome. But what I do recall is his idea that the same human experiences occur again and again throughout history. To lend brevity to Livy's wordy preface, history repeats itself.
Inge Eidsvåg

Not so fast, says Nansen Academy instructor and Norwegian radio personality Inge Eidsvåg. He presented two wonderful lectures to us on the life and legacy of Fridtjof Nansen and on how to teach and receive history. Here are his pointers for teaching history for you all to mull over:
1. Use all relevant sources
2. Be critical of all sources
3. Be careful with moral judgements of the past; dead people can't defend themselves
4. Different views should be presented in a fair way; defend views different than your own
5. History never repeats itself (but you may see trends)
6. Events are not inevitable before they have taken place
7. History is a construction or model of the past
8. History means interpretation
9. History must be rewritten...again and again
10. Be conscious of our enormous responsibility to learn true and balanced history

In small group discussions, many students from former-Yugoslavia voiced their concern that history and the way it is taught and interpreted is one of the things that continues to damage and divide society in the Balkans. Steinar and the Nansen Academy believe firmly in using education as the starting point for integrating people of different cultures and beliefs. The students we spent time with were able to recognize that conflicting parties teach history in a way that supports their beliefs. They also said that some parts of their national history are omitted in order to only focus on a period of time that is not disputed (which happens to be hundreds of years ago). One girl, Dafina, said it best: when we get better at teaching history, our society will get better. This is certainly open to discussion and it is hard to replicate on here the discussion our group had. But there is not doubt in my mind that knowing a discussing history fully and openly is beneficial for all.

Inge told us about a growing "field" of history where the story of time is written through a particular lens with the disclaimer that this lens affects the model presented. He referenced Philippe Aries' Centuries of Childhood (childhood in early modern Europe) and new textbooks written by collaborating historians telling, for example, a history of Germany and France, or a history of the Balkans. I'm sure these historians had plenty to talk about and surely the early outlines were burned over much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But the point is that in the end people of different backgrounds came together to at least have a rational discussion which presents a model of reality and life on both sides.

Let me tell you, it is very easy as an American to sit in quiet, quaint Lillehammer and think to myself, "Why can't Serbians and Albanians just get along. Why can't they look beyond petty arguments, integrate, and develop?" My own challenge was to think about instances where I might have to sit at the same table as someone else and discuss an issue when each of us thinks the other is just plain wrong.

It's incredible how one experience can totally shape another. All of the participants of at the Nansen Dialogue Network last week agree that this experience is invaluable to shaping our time at the International Summer School.

The University of Oslo rolled out the red carpet for us Monday night with the official opening of the 65th International Summer School. We started our evening at the original University of Oslo campus on Oslo's main street, Karl Johans Gate, immediately east of the Palace. The Greek-styled buildings are currently used for the School of Law and the Aula (great hall) was just reopened last week after three years of renovations. We heard from the Rector of the University, Norway's Minister for Higher Education and Research, and an alum from the first ISS in 1947. A folk group sang and danced wearing their bunads. After the opening, the group of 500 walked to Oslo's City Hall. The site of the annual Peace Prize Award Ceremony, city hall was filled with good food and drink, live jazz, and a diverse body of students, professors, and various representatives of embassies in Oslo.
University of Oslo

Classes are off to a good start, although rolling out of bed for 8am class in Norway feels almost the same as rolling out of bed for 8am class in Sioux Falls. Scandinavian Government and Politics is an entirely new field for me. We are starting the course by examining the political and social trends of the last 150 years in Scandinavia to better understand the roots of the Scandinavian welfare state. The Peace Scholars Seminar meets once a week for lecture and once a week for a class excursions. Thursday of this week we will visit the Nobel Institute and hopefully meet with its director, Dr. Geir Lundestad.with Michael Seeley, Rob Oliver, and Geir Lundestad

I leave you with this brief and amusing anecdote:
Last Thursday, Lillhammer's large, historic, Norwegian village, Maihaugen, hosted a midsummer celebration. All of the old homes and churches were open with actors inside to describe the time period of the structure, its contents, and its inhabitants. While the night ended with a huge bonfire in the middle of the lake and a large bowl of rømmegrøt, a true collision of cultures and nationalities happened before the height of the festivities. When we entered the historic Stave church, we heard organ music and saw many Norwegians standing in the pews and singing. The American and Balkans students very noisily made our way to a few of the benches. While we were initially confused as to why the Norwegians were singing My Country Tis of Thee, we very proudly came in on the last line: "God save the King." I guess you had to be there. It reminded me of the time a certain member of my family went to a rehearsal of the German Round Singers. I guess that will be something for you to talk about the next time you see them...
with friends Marko and Милош at the Maihaugen bonfire


  1. Hey Thad - just a quick note to let you know I'm enjoying your posts and living your trip through your and Michaels' writing...keep it up! So glad you and your family had such a good trip in advance of the "work" you are now undertaking. Before you know it, you'll be on your way home. That's the only bad part I know about overseas travel and study! :-) Things are good here - sun is starting to warm us up (finally) and the rivers and streams are beginning to crest and fall. About time! Hope all is well - greetings from AUGIE!

  2. Hi Brad - good to hear from you! Our "work" is learning about government and peace, and our classroom is all of Norway. Life is good! And the world is small: today we ran into Augsburg President Pribbenow on Oslo's main street!

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post, Thad! Your writing is vivid, and you convey your excitement about and appreciation for your experience so well. Can't wait to read more! Looking forward to having your help in the IPO in late August, although it might not be as much fun as Norway :) Then again, we might surprise you! Hope you continue to enjoy and grow from this fantastic opportunity you're sharing with all of us.