When the Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) curated the content for the Texas Exhibits Hall for HemisFair 1968, it established the seminal body of knowledge on Texan cultures. The inaugural exhibits and underlying research continue to be a starting point for exploration and scholarly pursuits.
One recent visit to the ITC by independent researcher Berit Mason assisted in her efforts to further the story of Norwegian Texans. Mason, a former journalist, published “Sons and daughters of Vikings: Deep in the heart of Texas,” a two-part podcast for the Sons of Norway, a fraternal insurance organization with an educational foundation. The podcast delves into how and why Norwegians settled in Texas. Mason provided copies of the audio files on disc for the ITC library. Future researchers can use these files freely.
While Mason grew up in San Antonio, she is Norwegian through her mother, who was from Greåker, Norway. A veteran journalist, she was a longtime reporter for WOAI-AM and has written for the San Antonio Report, San Antonio Woman and San Antonio Business Journal.
In March 2022, Mason received a grant from the Sons of Norway for an independent research project into Norwegian Texans. Her hunt for information began at the institute, with its Norwegian exhibit and resources. She continued with field work, making multiple trips to Bosque County, known as the seat of Norwegian heritage in Texas, and the small town of Clifton, named the Norwegian capital of Texas in 1997. In Clifton, she interviewed heritage organization members, chamber of commerce officers, and a new landowner, Thomas Mannes of Tysvær, Norway, who purchased the historic Cleng Peerson Farm.
“After I secured my grant, I visited the Institute of Texan Cultures to begin my research,” said Mason. “I studied the Scandinavian exhibit to learn about Norwegian settlers to Texas, reading about the neighboring Swedes and Danes, as well. I learned that in 1800s Scandinavia, Scandinavians emigrated to America to escape a greedy ruling elite, who made life hard on their people. Studying these exhibits gave me the lead sentence of my podcast script, which for any reportage, is the most important sentence one writes.”
Mason’s new content contributions to the ITC files include a CD with podcasts telling stories of Norwegian immigration to Texas and the descendants of early Norwegian Texans; the story of Cleng Peerson, the architect of Norwegian immigration to Texas; and Thomas Mannes’ purchase of Peerson’s historic farm in Bosque County.
As part of the University of Texas at San Antonio, the institute provides access to resources for educators and lifelong learners on cultural heritage topics. Initial ITC researchers, in part, drew on oral histories and contact with descendants of early immigrants to Texas. Their body of work resulted in more than 20 exhibits and an extensive collection of books on individual Texas cultures. The primary resources – interviews, articles, and other content – remain in the UTSA Library Special Collections branch at the ITC.
“The ITC Library’s vertical files are a valued resource to researchers, scholars, and families searching for connections to their heritage,” said Amy Rushing, assistant vice provost for UTSA Libraries Special Collections. “We’re thankful to independent researchers who have returned to ITC with excellent content to advance stories and to make new resources available to the public.”
The ITC is a valued resource for those interested in learning about the rich mosaic of cultures of the Lone Star state—past, present and future. The UTSA Libraries Special Collections branch at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures is available to the general public by appointment: 210-458-2224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.