Article Title

My Danish Background


family, Danish documents, history of Denmark


Editor's Note: This essay brought back fond memories for me, because I had the opportunity, some forty years ago, to meet Professor Waldemar Westergaard (1882-1963) in his pension in Store Kongensgade, near Kongens Nytoro in Copenhagen. It was the summer of 1962. My graduate school advisor, Professor Lawrence D. Steefel, was an old friend of his and recommended me to him. Professor Westergaard was eighty years of age but full of energy, charm, and good stories. He gave me the names of all kinds of people to contact in Copenhagen. The cordiality and intellectual acumen that characterize the following memoir were evident in that dinner meeting, which was the only occasion I ever had to meet him. He died the following year. After receiving my B.A. degree in 1956, I spent a year at the University of Copenhagen in the Graduate School for Foreign Students before entering the graduate school of the University of Minnesota to pursue my M.A. and ultimately Ph.D. in history. Coming from a mixed Danish-Norwegian background and a family that had been in the USA for five generations, I had learned only English at home. However, I had a good background in German and a bit of college French, so it did not take too long to pick up a reading knowledge of Danish and basic conversational skill. My tutor at the University of Copenhagen was Professor Sven Henningsen, a well-known authority on twentieth century history and a splendid teacher. He introduced me to the Royal Library, helped me to get a carrel in the old Reading Room, set me to reading Schultz Danmarks Historie as a means of mastering the vocabulary of Danish historians, and discussed the papers that I presented fortnightly on my chosen topic of the history of SchleswigHolstein in the revolutionary year of 1830. During that year in Copenhagen, I also made contact with relatives in Vejle Amt and on Sjcelland. Six years later, after completing my coursework for the Ph.D. and putting in a stint in the United States Army, I was back in Copenhagen in 1962-63 to carry out research on my doctoral dissertation. Waldemar Westergaard's name was well-known to anybody who studied Scandinavian history, and I was grateful for the opportunity to meet him. His books covered a variety of historical subjects. His doctoral dissertation, The Danish West Indies Under Company Rule, 1671-1754, is a classic study of colonial history. His book, Denmark and Slesvig, 1848- 1864 (London: G. Cumberlege, Oxford University Press, 1946) included letters from a Dane who emigrated to America. His book, The First Triple Alliance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947), was a pioneering study of Baltic diplomatic history. In addition to these historical works, Westergaard had translated some letters of Hans Christian Andersen and one of Ludvig Holberg's most famous comedies. He was a scholar with broad interests and a deep appreciation of Danish culture. His papers in the University of California Library fill 100 linear feet of shelf space in 263 boxes. In 1961, the following memoir was printed in Dansk Nytaar, 87- 91, under the title, "Min danske baggrund, Kendt professor fortceller om sin fedrenearv. "