History, geography and way of life

Brief history of Norway

Vikingskip

The Viking Age

We call the period of time between the years 800 and 1050 AD the Viking Period. At the start of the Viking Period, Norway was not one united country, but many small kingdoms. Harald Fairhair (Harald Hårfagre) became king of a large portion of Norway in 872. Many Vikings travelled to other countries. Some Vikings were merchants and bought and sold goods, while others were warriors who pillaged and killed. Today we often think of warriors when we talk about the Vikings. Christianity was introduced in Norway in the 11th century and replaced the old Norse religious practices.

Borgund stavkirke

The union between Denmark and Norway

During the 1300s Denmark gained more and more influence over Norway and, in 1397, Norway was absorbed into a formal union with Denmark and Sweden. The union was ruled by a common king. Sweden gradually seceded from the union, but Denmark and Norway remained united until 1814. The union was governed from Denmark. Copenhagen was the cultural centre of the union and Norwegians read and wrote in Danish. Norwegian farmers paid taxes to the king in Copenhagen.

Dissolution of union and creation of new union

Eidsvoll1814 - © Stortingsarkivet/ foto: Teigens fotoatelier as

The year 1814 is an important year in Norway’s history. On 17 May that year, Norway adopted a constitution of its own. The early 19th century in Europe was a period marked by several wars. One of them was a big war with England on one side and France on the other. Denmark-Norway was on France’s side, and when France lost the war, the Danish king had to give up Norway to Sweden, which had supported England in the war. In 1814, the union between Denmark and Norway was dissolved.

Some Norwegians hoped that Norway would become an independent country after the dissolution of the union, and 112 powerful men from the southern areas of the country met at Eidsvoll in Akershus county. Among other things, they wanted to draft a constitution for an independent Norway. Despite this, Norway was forced into a union with Sweden in November 1814. The new union with Sweden was a much looser one than the old union with Denmark. Norway was allowed to keep its own constitution, with some changes, and was self-governing in internal matters. Foreign policy was decided by Sweden, and the king was Swedish.

Eidsvollsbygningen

National Romanticism and Norwegian identity

Brudeferd i Hardanger (Hans Gude & Adolph Tidemand, © Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design)

Around the middle of the 19th century, a new movement in art and culture began to emerge, which we call National Romanticism. An important part of the movement was a focus on national character and both magnifying and embellishing it. In Norway, the focus was primarily on the natural beauty of the country. The farming community was regarded as “typical Norwegian”. National Romanticism was expressed in literature, visual arts and music. During this period, Norwegians began to develop a greater sense of their own national identity. Many developed a sense of pride at being Norwegian and, as a result, a strong desire for the country to become independent.

After being in a union with Denmark for several centuries, the written language of Norway was Danish. The written language we currently refer to as bokmål is a further development of this language. During the period of National Romanticism, many believed that Norwegians should have their own written language that was not based on Danish. For this reason, linguist Ivar Aasen (1813-1896) travelled around the country gathering examples from the various dialects. He used these examples to create a new written language called nynorsk (New Norwegian). Both nynorsk and bokmål have developed considerably since the 1800s, but Norway continues to have two official variants of Norwegian, in addition to Sami and Kven (kvensk).

Industrialisation of Norway

Fabrikkarbeidere 1880, (Oslo Museum, fotograf: Per Adolf Thorén)

In the mid-19th century, around 70 percent of the Norwegian population lived in rural areas and most engaged in agriculture and fishing-related activities. Life was hard for many. As the population increased, there was not enough land or work for everyone. Changes were taking place in the cities at the same time. More and more factories were being built and many people moved from the countryside to the cities for work. Life in the city was difficult for many working-class families. Work days were long and living conditions poor. Families often had many children and it was not unusual for several families to live together in one small apartment. Many children also had to work at the factories in order for their family to survive. More than 800,000 Norwegians emigrated to America during the period 1850–1920.

A free and independent country

The union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905. There had been political disagreement for many years between the Norwegian Storting (parliament) and the king in Sweden and, at the start of the 20th century, more and more believed that Norway should be a free and independent country. On June 7th 1905, Storting declared that the Swedish king was no longer the king of Norway and, consequently, the union with Sweden was dissolved. The reactions in Sweden were fierce and war nearly broke out between Norway and Sweden. As a result of two referendums held that same year, it was determined that the union with Sweden was dissolved and that the new nation of Norway would be a monarchy. Danish Prince Carl was chosen as the new king of Norway. He assumed the Norwegian royal name Haakon. King Haakon the 7th was King of Norway from 1905 until his death in 1957.

First half of 20th century

Vannkraftverk

Norway started using water power to produce electricity at the end of the 19th century. This led to the establishment of many industrial enterprises. The need for labour increased, and towns and cities continued to grow. A special law was passed to ensure that, while hydroelectric power was developed by private companies, the water resources themselves remained public property.

World War I raged in Europe in the years 1914–1918. Norway did not take part in the war, but its consequences for the economy were felt here too. The war caused shortages of goods such as grain, coffee and sugar, and these goods were rationed. The 1930s were a period of economic crisis in Europe and Northern America. Many people lost their jobs and their homes. Even though the situation was not as bad in Norway as in many other countries, we still talk about the ‘difficult 1930s’.

World War II: 1939/1940-1945

Stortinget med tysk banner 1940-45, (Oslo Museum, ukjent fotograf)

World War II started with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Norway was occupied by German forces on 9 April 1940. The fighting in Norway only lasted for a few weeks before Norway capitulated. The King and Government fled to England and continued the struggle to free Norway from there. Norway was governed by a pro-German government led by Vidkun Quisling. This government was not democratically elected.

Although little actual fighting took place on Norwegian soil, there were several resistance groups that carried out sabotage, published illegal newspapers and organised civil disobedience and passive resistance against the Germany occupying forces. Many people who were active in the resistance movement had to flee the country. Around 50,000 Norwegians fled to Sweden during World War II. In Northern Norway, many people were killed and most of Finnmark county and the northern part of Troms county were razed to the ground when the German troops evacuated these areas. On Hitler’s orders, most of the buildings and infrastructure were burnt to prevent them from being of use to the Soviet army. Eventually, Germany started losing the war on more and more fronts, and it was forced to capitulate in May 1945. Around 9,500 Norwegians died as a consequence of the war.

Present-day Norway

En oljeplattform

After the war, it was time to rebuild the country. There were serious shortages of goods, and there was also a shortage of housing. Cooperation and solidarity were needed to rebuild Norway as soon as possible. The economy and consumption were strictly regulated by the state.

The United Nations (UN) was established shortly after the war. The primary goal of the UN is to promote peace and justice in the world. Norway was among the first countries to join the UN in November 1945. The first Secretary-General of the UN, Trygve Lie, was Norwegian.

The USA offered economic assistance to European countries after the war. This economic help scheme is known as the Marshall Plan. It came with economic and political requirements that recipient countries had to meet. Norway received around NOK 3 billion in aid from the USA. In 1949, Norway, along with eleven other countries, signed the North Atlantic Treaty. This led to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO. The close relationship between Western Europe and the USA has continued to the present day.

Norway’s economy was relatively good in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Government introduced many reforms aimed at improving the lives of the Norwegian people. In the 1960s, several companies wanted to search for oil and gas off the coast of Norway. As with hydroelectric power 50 years before, the oil resources remained public property, while private companies could buy rights to oil exploration, drilling and production in defined areas for a limited time. The first oil was found in the North Sea in 1969. Since then, Norway has become an oil nation and a major exporter of oil. The oil industry has been very important to the Norwegian economy.

Big political movements have also played an important role in the development of modern Norway. The labour movement and the women’s movement have been particularly important. The roots of the Norwegian labour movement date back to the 17th century, but it became more organised with the growing number of jobs in industry from the 1880s onwards. The movement gained greater influence from the 1920s. The labour movement’s efforts have resulted in better working conditions, including shorter working hours, improved safety in the workplace, health insurance and the right to financial support for unemployed people.

The women’s movement has fought for women’s rights in society, for gender equality and for equal opportunities for men and women. The right to divorce, birth control, elective abortion and women’s right to decide over their own bodies have also been important issues for the women’s movement. The Act relating to the Termination of Pregnancy (the Abortion Act) was adopted in 1978. Among other things, this act gives women the right to have an abortion until week 13 of pregnancy. Today, men and women have the same rights to education and work, property and inheritance, healthcare and good health.

 

Facts

Brief history of Norway

Present-day Norway is a modern democracy with a very high standard of living.  The majority of Norwegians are prosperous and the population has a relatively high education level.  Both men and women participate in the labour force. Society is governed by a series of laws and regulations that guarantee that inhabitants receive education, health care and financial assistance based on need.

Rapid development in the areas of technology and computer science has taken place the past few decades. This has also had a significant impact on Norwegian society. It creates more jobs, different types of tasks, and changes the private lives of individuals as well.

Over the past few decades Norway has become a multicultural and ethnically diverse society.