Title Reviewed:
A Community Transplanted: The Trans–Atlantic Experience of a Swedish Immigrant Settlement in the Upper Middle West, 1835–1915

Author Reviewed:
Robert C. Ostergren

David G. Vanderstel


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 86, Issue 1, pp 101-102

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

A Community Transplanted: The Trans-Atlantic Experience of a Swedish Immigrant Settlement in the Upper Middle West, 1835–1915. By Robert C. Ostergren. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988. Pp. xv, 400. Figures, maps, illustrations, tables, notes, bibliography, index. Clothbound, $45.00; paperbound, $19.95.)

A Community Transplanted transcends the traditional immigration histories of past decades by offering a detailed inside view of Swedish trans-Atlantic migration and community formation that captures the "totality of the immigrant experience" (p. xiii). Robert C. Ostergren has followed several hundred immigrants from their parish of R$aUttvik to the American frontiers of Isanti County, Minnesota, and Clay County, South Dakota, between the 1860s and 1910s. He vividly describes conditions within the "sending" and "receiving" communities previous to and immediately following the migrations in order to understand the migrant experience within "contexts that were meaningful to the actual participants" (p. xiii).

Ostergren focuses on the "chain migration" phenomenon in which individuals seeking new opportunities followed the advice and examples of friends and kin who had previously uprooted themselves and traveled to a new land. He specifically examines the impact of "America letters," kinship networks, and economic and environmental factors upon individuals' decisions to leave their homes, and he follows the "migration fever" as it swept from town to town in the Swedish parish.

Through his skillful mining of diverse sources, including parish registers, property tax and land records, manuscript censuses, and literary accounts, Ostergren immerses the reader in the daily life and culture of Swedish immigrants. His finely crafted prose describes how they attempted to rebuild their traditional society, which revolved around family, village, farm, and church, as a "measure of continuity with the past" (p. 9).

Ostergren concludes that the migration experience was the "connecting tissue" that bound both sides of the Atlantic together and that the isolation of the midwestern frontier provided an environment in which "the old social fabric remained largely inviolate through at least the lives of the immigrant generation" (p. 327). Yet it was only a partial transplantation of culture, argues Ostergren, "a brief emergence of something that resembled … the organism from which it came" (p. 328). Traditional Swedish life was slowly transformed and redefined through the immigrants' encounters with vast land, growing markets, and American society, an experience similar to the transplanted clusters of Germans, Norwegians, Dutch, and other Europeans in the American Middle West.

A Community Transplanted is a carefully written, richly illustrated case study of human migration. While depending primarily upon vast statistical data, Ostergren successfully breathes life into his subjects and recaptures an immigrant culture of past times. It is a model study of historical geography, immigration, and community transplantation and should quickly become a standard in the field of migration studies.

DAVID G. VANDERSTEL is senior historian at Conner Prairie, Noblesville, Indiana, and member of the associate faculty, Department of History, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He is currently involved in editing the papers of a nineteenth-century Presbyterian missionary and educator in Indiana.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.