Posted on October 18, 2010 by Tia Lalani

How often do we seriously grapple with what it means to reside in one of the northernmost countries in the world?

By Christopher Thrall

“Some of us may grumble about Alberta’s six-month winters and look forward to the long days of summer, but how often do we seriously grapple with what it means to reside in one of the northernmost countries in the world? We may not often think about it, but physical geography and location are closely linked to our economy, language, art, and many other elements of culture.”

Professor Ingrid Urberg, Scandinavian Studies

On October 12 and 13, the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus hosted a second international mini-conference on the concept of nordicity with Telemark University College, U of A Augustana’s Norwegian partner institution since 2004. Among the presenters were award-winning Canadian author Rudy Wiebe and Norwegian ambassador Else Berit Eikeland.

The term nordicity was first coined by Canadian geographer Louis-Edmond Hamelin, to describe the natural and human similarities between high-latitude societies. Both keynote speaker Wiebe and ambassador Eikeland stayed all day Tuesday to hear the presentations and to participate in discussions. Attendees came from the Augustana student body, the Camrose community, Edmonton and Bø – two hours southwest of Oslo, Norway – to learn about and discuss the concept.

Starting with a map of Canada shown upside-down – representing the circumpolar perspective of our nation that seems so strange at first glance – Rudy Wiebe led an engaging discussion of how the idea of northern-ness was completely relative. “Rudy’s talk was a good way to frame the conference,” said Urberg. “His ideas of nordicity really encouraged people to think, and many presenters referred back to his comments.”

Ambassador Eikeland opened the second day of the conference with a discussion of the similarities between Norway and Canada. Both are Arctic countries which claim to be simply northern nations: cold climates, plentiful nature, sparse populations and important aboriginal populations are found in both nations. Norway was ranked first on the United Nations’ 2009 Human Development Index, with Canada at fourth place among all the countries in the world. With free education, a comprehensive energy policy, a royal family and 3.2% unemployment, the ambassador mentioned a few differences but stated that these are significantly outweighed by our similarities.

“The whole conference was based on gleaning ideas from each other,” said Urberg. “In many of the talks, people spoke about identity – not only national, but regional. These similarities will help colleagues to consider collaborative projects and students in both places to seriously consider the other for their studies.” Marianne Douglas, director of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute, suggested the importance in studying changes in nordic cultures, including their health, material and cultural well-beings, and their levels of education. The University of Alberta initiative, celebrating its 50th anniversary as the former Boreal Institute, stands ready to help make these connections for faculty or students.

“The conference was successful,” says Urberg on behalf of the organizing team: geography professor Glen Hvenegaard, physical education professor Morten Asfeldt, English professor John Johansen and Vice Dean Ric Johnson. Both the keynote speaker and the Norwegian ambassador spent Tuesday in conference presentations and discussion following them. U of A Augustana’s Dean Roger Epp commemorated the ambassador’s visit by speaking of the institution’s Norwegian heritage, and our Norwegian visitors were quite engaged. “New people from Telemark University College came – who hadn’t been here before. It’s really important to have different people traveling back and forth.”

Conference attendees learned about the Norwegian Telemark campus, of course, but our visitors also learned more about Augustana. Informal conversation followed the decision to billet presenters in faculty homes over the Thanksgiving weekend – and the single visiting student, Student Union president and entrepreneurship student Jannicke Døvre, stayed in student residence. “She felt that was very valuable, enabling her to go back to Telemark students and give them more description of her experience at Augustana,” said Urberg.

Telemark representatives were equally interested in the community-service learning opportunities offered to Augustana students. “In Norway, extra-curricular or volunteer activities tend to be organized by students,” said philosophy professor Dr. Nils Ivar Agøy. Telemark’s interdisciplinary campus in Bø includes 1800 students enrolled in liberal arts, science and business courses as well as several graduate studies programs. The CSL projects arranged by Augustana seemed to be an excellent effort to enhance community connections while also enhancing student education opportunities, especially in English immersion to assist less confident second-language speakers.

Norwegian speakers attended classes across campus in order to connect with students who wouldn’t have otherwise taken the opportunity. “We had a presenter in my biology class,” chuckled “Doc” David Larson. “There was no real connection, but any opportunity to learn more about the world is valuable to students. Dr. Agøy had a chance to meet more of our students as well.” The interdisciplinary nature of both campuses was one of the most striking similarities that came up again and again.

“One of the things we wanted to impress on our guests was that this campus is about community,” said Urberg. “We interact with our colleagues from other disciplines and are interested in, supportive of – proud of – the work they do.” A number of U of A Augustana’s fine arts professors showed their work in a showcase event one evening in order to demonstrate that aspect of our multidisciplinary campus. In combination with local tours of the area, the Norwegian visitors were very impressed. “We had lunch at the Lefse House,” she continued, “then a wonderful Elk Island viewing of bison with former guide Glen Hvenegaard. We ended up eating bison that evening at the Dean’s house! Our visitors loved it.”

“It will certainly be easier to recommend Augustana now that we have been here,” said cultural studies professor Peter Fjågesund. “We had an amazing reception and the prepared program was of a very high quality.”

We had great interactions at several levels,” said Hvenegaard. “There were student study opportunities, research collaboration ideas and field excursions, as well as living and eating together. I hope that this relationship strengthens our commitment to internationalization, especially with our partner institution in Norway.”

“The original intent was for two mini-conferences,” said Agøy, “but we hope – in fact, I will say we expect – the relationship to continue in some form.”

“We will send different people when we are again invited to their campus,” said Urberg, “and we will continue to welcome new people from Telemark. Everyone should get a chance to do this.” The number of Augustana students at Telemark should increase – their Masters programs should attract Scandinavian Studies students who have mastered the Norwegian language. Hopefully, the rising number of Telemark visitors who can speak personally about their experience will result in increased student and faculty attendees from there.

A special thanks to the Canadian Institute for Nordic Studies (CINS), The Office of the Dean, Augustana and the Vice-President Research University Conference Fund for providing funding for this event.

October 12 – Tuesday
Opening – Welcome and Introductions – Dean Roger Epp
Keynote Address and Discussion – Rudy Wiebe, award-winning Canadian novelist, “North is from Wherever You are Looking”

“Thought in a Cold Climate” – Janet Wesselius
“Norden & the North; Nordicity and Northicity: A Discussion of Terms” – Peter Fjågesund
“Vivre l’hiver: Living in Winter and Living Winter” – Jerome Melancon
“Bridging the Gap: Indigenous Knowledge of a Northern Ecology” – Glynnis Hood

“The Invention and Diffusion of Skiing and Canoeing as Leisure Activity: A Comparative Study of Norwegian Skiing and Canadian Canoeing” – André Horgen
“Canada and Norden – Comparisons in Terms of Natural Environment” – Arvid Odland
“A Student in Telemark: Small Country, Big Dreams” – Jannicke Døvre
“Teaching Regional Geography for the Canadian North: Adding Value to the Learning Experience” – Glen Hvenegaard and Morten Asfeldt

Fine Arts Showcase Event
• Paul Johnson – “Henrik Ibsen on the Necessity of Producing Norwegian Drama” (John Palmer)
• Julian Forrest – “The Wild North: Migrant Populations and the Arts”
• Keith Harder – “Tempus Fugit: A Vanitas for Our Times”

• Milton Schlosser and Kathleen Corcoran – “Songs of the North”

October 13 – Wednesday
Address by Ambassador Else Berit Eikeland (Introduction by Dean Roger Epp)
“The Canadian Circumpolar Institute’s Nordic and Scandinavian Connections” – Marianne Douglas, Director, CCI
“The Construction of Childhoods in Norway and Canada: A Historical Approach” – Ellen Schrumpf

“The Religious Roots of ‘Nordicity’ in the Nordic Countries of Europe” – Nils Ivar Agøy

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