Project: Borderlands of Swedish-Indigenous Encounters

Swedish-Indigenous encounters focuses on the concurrent histories of Swedish and other Scandinavian emigrants and Indigenous nations in North America during the 19th and 20th centuries. What did emigrants know and experience as they became part of the dispossession of indigenous peoples, and how did knowledge circulate back and forth across the Atlantic? How did the different indigenous nations view and relate to Swedish settlers? The research is connected to the international network “Swedish-American Borderlands” .

The project is part of "Swedish-American Borderlands," an initiative to apply a borderlands concept to rethink Swedish-American relations over time and space. The network is led by Dag Blanck, Uppsala University, and Adam Hjorthén, Stockholm University.

Project information

Project manager
Gunlög Fur
Participating organizations
Linnaeus University
History (Department of Cultural Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Humanities)

More about the project

From the middle of the 19th century until the beginning of the First World War, close to a quarter of the Swedish population migrated to North America. Many of them ended up in the (upper) Midwest. In 1850, when celebrated author Fredrika Bremer exclaimed that Minnesota was “rightly a country for Nordic emigrants, rightly a country for a New Scandinavia,” a mere seven thousand white people lived in the region. At the exact time as Bremer envisioned a new Scandinavia, she noted that “all of western Minnesota, west of the Mississippi, is still Indian territory,” and she reported a combined indigenous population of fifty thousand.

Scandinavian settlement thus occurred on territory belonging to other people. When Swedes and other Scandinavians were arriving from across the ocean, Ojibwes, Dakotas, Crees and others were forced to vacate lands that became conveniently empty for Scandinavian occupation. This influx began in the 1850’s, but still, in the 1930’s, Scandinavian immigrants were settling on or near indigenous land. That Scandinavian immigrants and American Indians must have met is obvious, but why are they so rarely discussed in the same context?

The larger goal of my project is to investigate immigrant-indigenous encounters and entanglements. What encounters took place and how did these evolve over time? How did information spread back and forth across the Atlantic? What do indigenous sources reveal about these interactions? What significance did encounters acquire for different groups and individuals and how did that change over time and space? These questions must be connected to a history of Euro-American colonial settlement and policies of dispossession of indigenous peoples. Entangling histories of immigrants and indigenous peoples challenges perceptions of identity and ownership of histories and requires collaboration across disciplines, around sources, and regarding consequences and I believe it could change the way that contemporary society takes responsibility for the outcomes of past interactions.


The project is part of:
Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies
Cluster for Colonial Connections and Comparisons
The network Swedish-American Borderlands