UW-Madison Hosts SASS Conference 2019

The Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study’s conference took place May 2-4, 2019, in the heart of downtown Madison WI, on the shores of Lake Monona. SASS met in the Monona Terrace Convention Center, designed by local architect and luminary Frank Lloyd Wright. The conference theme “Closing the Frontiers?” is highly relevant when dealing with contemporary Scandinavia. Frontiers are borders – real and imagined, present and historical. Scandinavia, like the United States, is a place where previously open borders have started to close. This holds not only to those trying to enter as immigrants or refugees, but also to those wishing to move within the once open Nordic region. “Closing the Frontiers” raised the question of what and whom to include when talking about Scandinavia – today and in the past. The question mark in the title indicated our openness to explore all aspects of the theme from all angles, encouraging a dynamic interdisciplinary discussion.

Madison was extremely well situated to discuss the question of the “Closing the Frontiers?” Frederick Jackson Turner, famous for his “Frontier Thesis” of 1893, was a professor of history at UW-Madison. Richard Hartshorne, who drew up the boundaries between the different sectors of a divided Germany after WWII, was a professor of cartography at UW-Madison. Rasmus B. Anderson, popularizer of Leif Erikson as an explorer of the New World, was a professor of Scandinavian Studies at the UW-Madison. He founded a department of Scandinavian Studies in 1875—the first such department in the United States, and arguably the first such in the world. With the recent merger of that department into a wider Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic, we wanted to ask the provocative question of whether this a closing of a frontier or an opening of new opportunities, new collaborations, and an important step away from an idea of Scandinavian exceptionalism.