Brief history of Norway
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.
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
The year 1814 is an important year in Norwegian history. Norway drafted its own constitution on 17 May of that year. Several wars were being waged in Europe in the early 1800s. This included a major war between England and France. Denmark/Norway took a stance on the side of France and, when France lost the war, the Danish king was forced to surrender Norway to Sweden, which had been on the side of England. The union between Denmark and Norway was dissolved in 1814. Some Norwegians hoped that Norway would become an independent nation after the dissolution of the union and a group of trailblazing men met at Eidsvoll, located in Akershus County. Among other things, they drafted a constitution for an independent Norway. Nevertheless, Norway was forced into a union with Sweden and, in November 1814, the union between the two became a fact. The union with Sweden was less repressive than the previous union with Denmark. Norway was allowed to maintain its own constitution (with a number of changes) and obtained internal self-government. Foreign policy was governed from Sweden and the king of both countries was Swedish.
National Romanticism and Norwegian identity
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
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. Many also tried their luck abroad and, between the years 1850 and 1920, more than 800,000 Norwegians emigrated to the United States.
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 7 July 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
At the end of the 1800s, Norway began using hydroelectric power to produce electricity. Several industrial companies were established as a result. The demand for labour increased and the cities continued growing. A law was passed that allowed hydroelectric power to be developed further by private companies, while the resources themselves would remain public property. World War I raged in Europe during the years 1914-1918. Norway was not involved in this war, but its economic effects could be felt in the country. Europe and North America suffered a financial crisis in the 1930s. Many lost their jobs and homes. Even though the situation in Norway was not as bad as in many other places, we refer to this time period in Norway as “the difficult 30s”.
World War II: 1939/1940-1945
The Second World War began in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. German troops invaded Norway on 9 April 1940. The fighting in Norway lasted only a few days before Norway capitulated. The king and government escaped to England and continued the fight for a free Norway from there. At this time, Norway was governed by a pro-German, non-democratically elected government led by Vidkun Quisling. Although only few battles were fought directly on Norwegian soil, numerous resistance groups carried out sabotage, printed illegal newspapers, and organised civil disobedience and passive resistance against the ruling regime. Many of those active in the resistance movement had to flee the country. Around 50,000 Norwegians fled to Sweden during the Second World War. The Germans gradually began losing battles on more and more fronts and surrendered in May of 1945. Around 9,500 Norwegians died as a result of the war.
After the war ended, the country needed to be rebuilt. There was an enormous shortage of goods and not enough homes for people. Collaboration and solidarity were needed to reconstruct the country as quickly as possible. The government strictly regulated the economy and consumption. The United Nations (UN) was established not long after the war. The primary objective of the UN is to promote peace and justice around the world. Norway was one of the first countries to join the organisation in November 1945. The United States offered financial assistance to encourage post-war recovery in Europe. The economic aid given was called the Marshall Plan and involved economic and political demands of the recipient countries. Norway received around three billion crowns in aid. In 1949 Norway and eleven other countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty. This led to the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, better known as NATO. The close relationship between Western Europe and the United States continues to this very day. The Norwegian economy was relatively strong in the 1950s and 1960 and the government introduced numerous reforms to increase the quality of life of its inhabitants. In the 1960s, a number of companies wanted to start drilling for oil and gas off the coast of Norway. As with hydroelectric power 50 years earlier, oil resources were also state-owned, but the private companies were allowed to buy rights to explore for, drill and extract oil in restricted areas and restricted time spans. Oil was found in the North Sea for the first time in 1969 and, since then, Norway has transformed into an oil nation. Today, Norway is one of the countries in the world that exports the most oil and the oil industry has a significant impact on the Norwegian economy. Major population movements have also had a large impact on the development of present-day Norway. The organised labour movement and women’s movement in particular have had a major influence. The labour movement in Norway has roots that go back to the 1600s, but started becoming more organised in the 1880s, as more industrial jobs became available. The movement gained greater influence in the 1920s. The labour movement has fought for better conditions for workers, including shorter working days, better safety conditions in the workplace, health insurance and the right to financial support when unemployed. The women’s movement has fought for women’s rights in society, equality between the sexes, and equal opportunities for men and women. The right to divorce, right to birth control, right to an abortion and women’s right to decide over their own bodies have been important causes for the women’s movement. Today, men and women have equal rights to education and work, property and inheritance, medication and health care.