The history department is offering a new one-credit class with no textbooks and weekly, hour-long meetings. It seems too good to be true.
But it’s real: For the first time, Professor of History Dave Stewart is teaching a class called Scandinavian History. Twenty students attend the weekly lectures, a large class size by Hillsdale standards. Eight of these students are not history majors.
The class wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of senior Dean Sinclair, a history major whose interest in the history of Scandinavian nations prompted him to suggest the new course.
Sinclair said he first approached Lucy Moye, associate professor of history, with the idea for the class. She directed Sinclair to Stewart to inquire into a possible independent study. Stewart took some time to plan the class and offered it to anyone who wanted to register.
Stewart said though they originally intended for Sinclair to do an independent study, Sinclair believed there were other students would would like to take the course.
“We simply listed it in the course offerings to determine if he was correct,” Stewart said. “Of course, he was.”
Neither Stewart nor Sinclair expected the class to become as popular as it is.
“[Stewart] initially just thought it would be me and one or two other kids that I roped into it, but I think we’re almost to twenty kids now, which for a one-credit seminar is huge,” Sinclair said. “I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out. I’ve never done something like this, never academically proposed a class. But I’m just really happy that it’s happening.”
Stewart said he thought Scandinavian history would be an interesting subject to teach. The class covers a wide time period, almost the entirety of the region’s history.
“The first day, we talked about what archaeologists call the pre-Vikings,” Stewart said. “Then we did the Vikings through the Middle Ages. We’ll slow down as we get into the Modern and Early Modern periods.”
Stewart and Sinclair both noted the Scandinavian countries, including Norway, are often presented in modern America as models of a perfect society, economically and socially. Studying the past of Scandinavia, Sinclair said, allows students to better understand why northern European countries have given their governments greater roles in social issues.
“Scandinavia is often held up in the contemporary world and in American politics as the model,” Stewart said. “Because it’s held up so much in political discourse, it’s interesting to test those claims. Is it really this model people say it is?”
Sophomore Philip Bernston, who plans to study history, said he has a personal interest in the class: His mother immigrated to the U.S. from Sweden when she was 23 years old.
“I’ve always been interested in Scandinavian history throughout my life,” Bernston said. “I figured this would be a sweet class to learn more about my family’s background and my family’s history. I’m Swedish on both sides. I have a strong attraction to Viking things; I used to dress up as a Viking when I was little.”
Bernston has a few theories as to why the class is so popular.
“We learn all about mainland Europe all the time [at Hillsdale], but we never really learn about what’s north,” Bernston said. “There’s a mystery to the North. There’s a mystery to Scandinavia that people want to learn about because the aesthetic of Scandinavian culture has always been fascinating to a lot of people.”
There are currently no plans for this class to be offered again, but Stewart said he would consider bringing it back if there were enough demand.
Stewart said one of his favorite aspects from this weekly class is that it’s attracted students from a variety of departments, not just history majors.
“It’s bringing a lot of people that aren’t even history majors that I wouldn’t otherwise meet,” he said. “I’m getting to meet a lot of students that I would imagine I would never cross paths with.”
Stewart said that the study of Scandinavian history is tied into the Western heritage emphasized at Hillsdale.
“The West plays out in a lot of different ways, and we’re very familiar with the Anglo-American tradition,” Stewart said. “Scandinavia — industrialization, the Colonial period — plays out in very different ways. To me, it’s fascinating to see the contrast. I think it gives a fuller appreciation of the West by seeing the different particular ways these basic traditions are played out.”