More than 100 participants came to experience the 43rd Annual Scandinavian Retreat in February, located in western Wisconsin, near Eau Claire. Many were students and faculty from universities with Nordic departments, including: Finlandia University, Augustana Rock Island, University of Wisconsin-Madison, St. Olaf College, Minnesota State University Mankato, Gustavus Adolphus College, Luther College, and the University of Minnesota, plus there were families, alumni and individuals who drove in from Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Colleges take it in turn to be the program host and this year Hilary Virtanen of Finlandia University in the Upper Peninsula took on that role. Speakers included Lesley Darling, a 2015 Swedish Council of America Humanities Scholar, who related her experiences with Ossfok, people who speak Orsamål in Dalarna, Sweden. Jason Schröder of UW-Madison presented on “Wily Women and Clever Cross Dressers: Outwitting Villains in a Swedish Ballad.” Edie Mattesson of Nebraska shared her strategies for using content-based history as a starting point for her Swedish learners. What they read in class pertains to their lives focusing on the history of Swedes in Nebraska.

Merging new technology and Medieval literature was the theme of another UW-Madison presenter. Colin Connors shared the latest on his Icelandic saga work, “The eSaga Project: Bringing Medieval Texts to Life with Interactive Digital Translations.” Readers can look at photos that Connors took in Iceland, showing the locations of saga story components. They can bring up the genealogy of a character to resolve in their mind exactly which Thorkel is making an appearance in the story. There are maps and timelines that help to support understanding in this newly translated edition by Connors. The book is called, "The eSaga of Hrafnkell Freysgođi,” and is available for purchase to download with iBooks.

Maren Johnson of Luther talked about “Norway and Netflix: Exporting Norwegian Culture Through TV." Ursula Lindqvist of Gustavus Adolphus College moderated a discussion on “Why Scandinavian Studies?” It was a particularly timely conversation since news had just reached the general public that Concordia College in Moorhead, MN was cutting its Norwegian department. The faculty present at the retreat wanted to find out what students needed and wanted in their Scandinavian Studies courses to better plan for the future.

Norden Folk, the fiscal host and sponsor for the retreat also brings in a speaker every year. Kari Tauring of Minneapolis gave a presentation called, “Full Time Völva: Carrying the Nordic Staff.” After she invited participants to do some staving with her, the room thrummed to a steady beat as she called out a line and the group answered chorally. Norden Folk also sponsors the ax casting competition, in memory of the late Jerry Revelle, president of the organization for many years. In addition, it provides woodcarving, weaving and folk dancing instruction as part of the weekend’s program. Homecooked meals are also a star feature.

For more information, find the Annual Midwest Scandinavian Retreat on Facebook or Next year’s dates are February 24, 25, 26, 2017. The price is $50. All are welcome.

Text and photos by V. S. Arrowsmith