Luther Alumni Magazine

Blessum's war

Race Fisher '19 and Anna Peterson, assistant professor of history, collaborated to research a collection of WWI Norwegian political cartoons. They published their results in January.
Race Fisher '19 and Anna Peterson, assistant professor of history, collaborated to research a collection of WWI Norwegian political cartoons. They published their results in January.

In January, Race Fisher ’19 copublished an article with Anna Peterson, assistant professor of history, in Vesterheim magazine. The article was the product of a summer research collaboration in which the pair researched and provided context for the Decorah-based Vesterheim Museum’s collection of drawings by Benjamin Blessum (1877–1954), a Norwegian American painter and illustrator who used political cartoons to chronicle the First World War, including the tensions and domestic turmoil that arose in Blessum’s neutral home country.

About the publication, Fisher, a double history and Nordic studies major, says, “This article means a lot to me not only for being my first published piece, which will look great on a resume, but also because Vesterheim stands as an authority on all things Norwegian American.”

Fisher, who studied abroad this semester in Bø, Norway, plans to attend graduate school and notes, “The whole process of preparing a piece for publication was an amazing learning experience for me. Professor Peterson really pushed me to synthesize the research and present it in the most effective way possible. These experiences helped me grow as a young historian.”

Fisher and Peterson have presented their research at the induction ceremony of Luther’s Phi Theta Alpha history honor society and to the local Sons of Norway chapter, and they’ve submitted it to the fall 2018 Northern Great Plains History Conference as well. Peterson says, “Race has been able to use the project to advance his understanding in many ways, to make important connections, and to form professional relationships.”

The images below are from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum’s collection. They were published as part of an article by Race Fisher ’19 and Anna Peterson, assistant professor of history, in the most recent issue of Vesterheim magazine. Fisher provided the captions for this article. All images courtesy of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.

The Agreements depicts the serious and fatal consequences of Norwegian trade with both Great Britain and Germany as the war progressed. The cartoon is a perfect pictorial representation of neutral Norway’s position during the second half of the war—trapped between two warring global powers with no means of escape.
The Agreements depicts the serious and fatal consequences of Norwegian trade with both Great Britain and Germany as the war progressed. The cartoon is a perfect pictorial representation of neutral Norway’s position during the second half of the war—trapped between two warring global powers with no means of escape.

In King of the Jungle, Norway’s national symbol, the lion, is starved and abused in a cage owned by Great Britain and Germany. The cartoon stands as a stark image of how Norwegians perceived their national identity after years of political, social, and economic turmoil that occurred as a result of the war.
In King of the Jungle, Norway’s national symbol, the lion, is starved and abused in a cage owned by Great Britain and Germany. The cartoon stands as a stark image of how Norwegians perceived their national identity after years of political, social, and economic turmoil that occurred as a result of the war.

This cartoon depicts the national personifications of the Allies feasting. Uncle Sam dishes out the food, while a poor and diseased Ola Nordmann, the national personification of Norway, begs on his knees for scraps from the table. Despite signing a trade deal with the U.S., food shortages continued to ravage Norway toward the end of the war. The needs of the Allies were met first, while Norwegian interests were pushed to the periphery due to its neutral status.
This cartoon depicts the national personifications of the Allies feasting. Uncle Sam dishes out the food, while a poor and diseased Ola Nordmann, the national personification of Norway, begs on his knees for scraps from the table. Despite signing a trade deal with the U.S., food shortages continued to ravage Norway toward the end of the war. The needs of the Allies were met first, while Norwegian interests were pushed to the periphery due to its neutral status.

In Peace on Earth, Blessum portrays the magnitude of bloodshed and the aura of pessimism surrounding the First World War with rows upon rows of marked graves covered in snow. At the end of the war, millions of lives had been lost, and even countries who chose to remain neutral in the conflict, such as Norway, suffered great losses.
In Peace on Earth, Blessum portrays the magnitude of bloodshed and the aura of pessimism surrounding the First World War with rows upon rows of marked graves covered in snow. At the end of the war, millions of lives had been lost, and even countries who chose to remain neutral in the conflict, such as Norway, suffered great losses.