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Where’s the humanity?

UW is a leader in Scandinavian studies, too

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When students at the UW consider what our school is academically regarded for nationally, the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and the Michael G. Foster School of Business come to mind. What is often forgotten is that the UW is also a national leader in non-STEM disciplines, and we have one of the best Scandinavian studies departments in the nation.

This is due in part to the rich history of Scandinavian peoples in the Pacific Northwest, namely in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. In the late 1800s, masses of Scandinavian peoples were arriving by railroad and by 1910, they were the largest ethnic group in Washington, accounting for over 20% of the foreign-born population.

From Denmark to Sweden, Scandinavian people were reminded of their homes when they arrived in the Pacific Northwest due to the similar mountainous terrain and rainy temperate climate. The Ballard Scandinavian population left lasting marks on the neighborhood, such as the Nordic Museum, which opened in 1980.

The often forgotten Nordic heritage of Seattle stays alive through the department of Scandinavian studies, which was established by a law enacted by the state legislature in 1909. The Scandinavian studies department at the UW offers a variety of courses from courses on sustainability, the state of welfare often seen in Nordic countries, Norse lore, and Scandinavian language courses. In addition to the VLPA or W credit you may be taking the class for, there is potential for learning about the Vikings that have been featured in pop culture.

A large part of the department's notoriety is derived from its commitment to not only teaching about Scandinavian peoples and their native languages, but also the variety of other languages spoken in the area.

“We are the only department in the country to offer those three Baltic languages [Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian], so it's the only place you can do Baltic studies,” Lauren Poyer, a lecturer in the department of Scandinavian studies, said.

I’m not saying everyone should try and learn a Scandinavian language in their undergraduate career, but it would be a waste of opportunity to not take advantage of the historically rich Scandinavian department at the UW.

“Scandinavian studies specifically teaches you a lot about how to live in a just society, because what makes a society just is something that the Scandinavian countries have been grappling with for a long time now,” Poyer said.

Not only do Scandinavian classes offer an understanding of the heritage of Seattle, but they can provide a more vivid picture of how another culture halfway across the world lives, which is surely not something that can be said about a math class.

“We’re a small department here, but we’re big in the Scandinavian world,” Poyer said.

Likewise, Scandinavian studies can be a small part of your undergraduate career, but you may find that the critical thinking skills and the inspiring attitude toward nature and spirituality might impact your life in a much larger way.

For the majority of students, college is only a four-year period of our life. We should not only try to leave ready to take on the jobs our major prepared us for, but also leave more human.

Reach writer Maryam Noor at Twitter: @mar_n98

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