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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Transnational Viking: The Role of the Viking in Sweden, the United States, and Swedish America


This article deals with how Vikings have been used as symbols and historical representations in Sweden, the United Sates, and Swedish America during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Three usages of the Vikings are isolated. The first is a “Swedish Viking,” which emphasized the role of the Viking and Norse past in Swedish (and Scandinavian) histories as historical antecedents as a part of 19th century nation building. The second is an “American Viking,” with its beginnings in the mid-19th century and rooted in the increased racialization of American society, and concerned with the processes through which Sweden and Scandinavia managed to become “Anglo-Saxon” and thus a significant part of the early European history in North America. The third usage is a “Swedish-American Viking,” dealing with ways in which the Swedish-American ethnic communities appropriated the Vikings, and made them a part of the formation of Swedish-American identities in the US from the late 19th century.

The article analyzes the ways in which the different usages have resonated with each other back and forth across the Atlantic. In the 19th century, “the Swedish Viking” clearly provided the building blocks for the establishment of the “American Viking.” Similarly, the “Swedish-American Viking,” drew on the contents and power of both the first types. During the 20th century, for example, the Swedish Viking has clearly become influenced by both the American and Swedish-American appropriations. This suggests both a circularity of interpretations and the importance of changing power relations.

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