The Titanic disaster

109 years ago, today, on 15 April 1912 at 2:20 am, after striking an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, RMS Titanic broke apart and sank south of Newfoundland, in the North Atlantic Ocean. With its 46,300 gross tons, RMS Titanic was the world’s largest passenger ship afloat at the time she entered service. It was thought that the huge ship with 16 watertight bulkheads simply could not sink. The disaster was met with worldwide shock and outrage at the huge loss of life, as well as the regulatory and operational failures that led to it.

Titanic´s passengers numbered approximately 1,339 people. It had around 885 crew members, of which only 23 were women. Only 710 survived out of a total of around 2,224 people onboard. The ship carried some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of emigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and elsewhere throughout Europe. The first-class accommodation was designed to be the pinnacle of comfort and luxury, with a gymnasium, swimming pool, libraries, high-class restaurants, and opulent cabins.

Passengers for RMS Titanic 10 April 1912. National Archives of Norway, Private Archive White Star Line, Emigration Register no. 4 (1906-1915), image 169.

This document is held in the National Archives of Norway as part of the collection of the White Star Line shipping company. The White Star Line was British owned but had an office in Oslo for processing Norwegian passengers who wished to make a connection to the UK in order to secure passage on one of the vessels sailing for America. Recorded on the list are three of the 28 Norwegian passengers who sailed with the Titanic when she departed from Southampton on 10 April 1912. Two of those listed, Arne Johan Fahlstrøm and Carl Midtsjø, made the connecting trip from Christiania (later Kristiania, the old name for Oslo) on 3 April (their ship was named the ‘Oslo’). The third, Olaf Pedersen, eventually travelled from Larvik on 5 April. Of these three men, only Midtsjø survived the Titanic disaster.

The list of the three Norwegian passengers is part of the Archival Literacy Online Course, a European Digital Treasures project to assist teachers in introducing students of grade 9 and higher to the world of archives. It is included in Module 3 – Pandemic and Epidemics, Economic Crises and Migration.

RMS Titanic departing from Southampton 10 April 1912. Photo: F. G. O. Stuart / Wikimedia Commons.

The Norwegians on the Titanic also formed part of a wider historical story, that of the mass migration of many millions of Europeans to America. And it was first and foremost this emigration that made the traffic across the Atlantic Ocean profitable in the beginning of the 19th century.  This movement of people had been ongoing since the ‘discovery’ of the New World in the late fifteenth century. However, by the mid-nineteenth century better connections and lower costs had helped facilitate the transportation of an ever-increasing number of individuals. Until World War I, around 100,000 persons from Northern Europe emigrated each year. A majority were attracted by the greater opportunities that expanding countries such as the USA could offer. In that sense they were motivated by what historians have referred to as ‘pull’ factors. But at certain points in time so-called ‘push’ factors came to predominate. During the late 1840s, for example, a large wave emigrated in desperation from Ireland and Germany following the onset of crop failure, famine and political unrest in their home country.

Midtsjø, Fahlstrøm and Pedersen had, each in their own way, all gone in search of opportunities available to them in America. Fahlstrøm had been gifted the price of passage by his parents so that he could study theatre in New York. Pedersen was already a citizen of the USA and was returning there after a sojourn back in Norway, where he had got married. The intention was that his new Norwegian wife would join him in America once he had made enough money to support a family. Midtsjø was the son of a farmer and was the first of several siblings who emigrated to the USA. Given that he travelled third class and was a healthy adult male he must have counted himself very lucky that he found a place on one of the Titanic’s lifeboats on that fateful night.

Biographies of the three Norwegian passengers

Arne Johan Fahlstrøm, who according to the passenger list travelled on first class on the transport ship from Oslo, is on Titanic’s passenger lists among those who travelled on second class. As a reward for a good exam, the parents gifted their 18-year-old son the price of passage to the United States where he should study film and theatre in New York. Both his parents were actors and had in 1897 established the Central Theatre in Oslo. They lost their only child and bequeathed their entire fortune to the Rescue Society to prevent new accidents at sea. A lifeboat came to bear the son’s name.

Carl Midtsjø travelled on Titanic’s third class. He was a farm boy from Ski outside Oslo and was the first of several siblings who emigrated to the USA. Carl was lucky and got a place in one of the lifeboats – no. 15 with passengers from all classes. In some of the lifeboats, there were in fact also blind passengers from the Titanic. In a letter to his brother shortly after the accident, he wrote that while people were desperately trying to save themselves on board the lifeboat, one of them was shot at. For Carl, life went on. On 4 August he turned 22 years old. He married the following month and remained in America for the rest of his life.

Olaf Pedersen came from Sandefjord, a small town an hour outside of Oslo, was 29 years old and travelled on third class. He was already a citizen of the USA and was returning there after a sojourn back to Norway where he had got married on 17 March. Now he wanted to cross the Atlantic again to earn money for his new family. It was intended that his Norwegian wife should follow later. Less than a month after the wedding, she became a widow instead. She made a living by sewing and never remarried.

Further reading:

International Women’s Day

March 8 is the International Women’s Day. The day has been celebrated since 1910, and on March 8, since 1914. The United Nations recognised Women’s Day in 1975, in connection with the International Year of Women. The day was instituted to honour the fight for women’s rights and to support a demand for universal suffrage for women.

Meeting concerning voting rights of Norwegian women, at the opening, 3 June, 1902 in the Old Ballroom at the University of Oslo. Photo: Severin Worm-Petersen; National Archives of Norway, reference code: RA/PA-0379/ U29_3598.

The photograph above is from a meeting held in the Old Ballroom at the University of Oslo in June 1902. The meeting was concerned with the voting rights of Norwegian women, the key demand of the Suffragette Movement since the turn of century.

Mrs. Fredrikke Marie Qvam (1843–1938), 1896, founder of the Norwegian Women’s Public Health Association, liberal politician and wife of Prime Minister Ole Anton Qvam. Photo: Henriksen; National Archives of Norway; reference code: RA/PA-0379/U4_0406.

In the picture, the Norwegian humanitarian and feminist Mrs. Fredrikke Marie Qvam addresses the meeting of 500 people. She was the leader of the Norwegian Women’s Public Health Association, the organisers of the meeting. The Association was founded in 1884 to safeguard women’s rights and strive for an inclusive society through the voluntary activities of its members. The Association pursued causes such as the improvement of women’s education and finances, preventing violence against women and increasing their political influence. After female voting rights in national elections were achieved in 1913, they worked to improve women’s political participation and for greater gender equality in school, education and working life.

The historical event when Norwegian women from the bourgeoisie and the middle class could vote for the first time in a Parliamentary election, 1909. Photo: Anders Beer Wilse; Norwegian Folk Museum, reference code: NF.06828-009.

In 1893, New Zealand was the first country in the world to introduce female voting rights in national elections. Finland was the first country in Europe to introduce women’s suffrage, in 1906, followed by Norway in 1913 and Denmark in 1915, with many other countries following suit in the years around the end of World War I.

The United Nations supported the introduction of women’s voting rights following World War II. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) defined it as a basic right within its 189 member countries.

The Sámi National Day on February 6

The Sámi National Day (Northern Sámi: Sámi álbmotbeaivi) on February 6 is an ethnic national day for the indigenous Sámi people. It commemorates the date when the first Sámi congress was held in 1917 in Trondheim, Norway. This congress was the first time that Norwegian and Swedish Sámi came together across their national borders to work together to find common solutions.

In the European Digital Treasures project, we have included one document that relates to the Sámi people. It is a page from a textbook in Sámi entitled ABC (1951), and was made by Margarethe Wiig. When the book was published, it was the first textbook dedicated to Sámi children in their own language. The book is an example of how European countries have changed their policies towards minorities after World War II.

Margarethe Wiig (1903-2002) was the wife of a Norwegian priest and later bishop, Alf Wiig. From 1923 to 1934 she and her husband lived in Karasjok (Norway), where he was parish priest. Karasjok is located in the middle of the Finnmark plateau, in the midst of the Norwegian part of Sápmi (the Sámi area).

While Wiig lived in Karasjok, she became aware that there were no textbooks for education in Sámi. She was convinced that “an ABC book based on these children’s environment with partial use of their own language not only would be desirable, but also necessary.” Optimistic and committed, she set off, without any formal qualifications.

Wiig worked closely with Sámi children and experts in Sámi language and pedagogy when the book was made. She also drew inspiration from ABC books from other countries. The work with the textbook was an assignment from the Ministry of Church and Education, which was responsible for approving textbooks. She fought several battles with the ministry. They were for a long time negative to the idea of including texts in Sámi, but Margarethe Wiig was very determined that the book should have parallel texts in Sámi and Norwegian, so that the Sámi children could learn to read their own mother tongue.

In the final phase of the work on the book, the authoress was summoned to a secret meeting with the Ministry of Church and Education and the Ministry of Defence. In the meeting she was told that she had to change the map in the book (on the page shown here). Originally, she had placed a reindeer over both Norway, Sweden and Finland. It should illustrate that the Sámi covered areas in all three countries. That had to be changed so the reindeer didn´t touch Finnish land. Only many years later did she understand why. During the Cold War, Norway wanted only limited relations with Finland, due to the threat from the Soviet Union, to which Finland with its long common national border was very exposed.

The ABC book was a huge success. Sámi children had finally got their own textbook. It has been characterised as the most important in Sámi textbook history. And not only that, the book became popular in wide circles not least because of the colourful and beautiful illustrations. Several hotels in Finnmark had the book for sale. Good publicity for Norway, said the Ministry. Rumours of the successful textbook reached all the way to Korea. There it was used as a model for a textbook for Korean children. Margarethe Wiik later received a letter of thanks with greetings from 70,000 teachers and 3 million school children in Korea.

Norway’s Sámi policy had more or less focused on assimilation from the late 1800s to the 1960s. However, following World War II, there was a gradual shift in the attitude towards the Sámi people and their culture, coinciding with the rebirth of Sámi political organisations. The use of Norwegian and Sámi in schools is a good example of this shift. For several decades from the late 1880s, the school authorities, backed by politicians, pursued a strict policy of Norwegianisation. All school books were in Norwegian, and Sámi was only used as an auxiliary language to help pupils in the lower grades.

After World War II, government authorities included those who wished to abandon the Norwegian policy of assimilation and provide conditions that were more conducive to the promotion of the Sámi language and culture. Use of the written Sámi language has indeed increased since the 1970s. The Sámi Parliament was established in 1989 to deal with (among other things) issues relating to Sámi language, culture and society.

Text by Ole Gausdal, National Archives of Norway
Illustrations from the ABC book reproduced with the approval of
The Arctic University Museum of Norway

Edvard Munch’s will

2021 will be a great year for Edvard Munch’s art. During the spring, a brand new museum will open its doors. The new museum is situated at Oslo´s waterfront and is tailor-made for the world´s largest collection of art by Edvard Munch. And what is more, it all grew out of Edvard Munch´s will.

Edvards Munch´s passport, issued 15 October 1925. From his probate file. The National Archives of Norway – The Regional Archives of Oslo

Edvard Munch (1863–1944) is one of the Modernism’s most significant artists, world-famous for his painting The Scream. His career as an artist saw him move away from naturalism and an accurate record of objects, instead seeking personal representations to express the mental life of modern man. Influenced by the symbolist movement, Munch later went on to become a pioneer of expressionist art.

Munch´s will

When he died on 23 January 1944, Edvard Munch left no heirs. He left behind an extensive and valuable artistic production: 1,100 paintings, 18,000 graphic works, 4,500 watercolors and drawings, six sculptures, countless letters and other correspondence. The distribution of the inheritance was determined through the will dated 18 April 1940. It was drawn up just nine days after Nazi troops invaded Norway, and annulled all previous ones. The Nazis are said to have threatened to seize Munch´s property, and he was worried for his paintings, which he regarded as his children.

In his will, Munch explains how his wealth, artwork and literary works should be distributed and managed: “The Municipality of Oslo inherits my remaining artworks, drawings, woodcuts, lithographs, intaglio prints, together with the woodcut blocks, lithographic stones, and the engraved copper plates. Prints must not be pulled from my lithographic stones, woodblocks or copper plates. Only 10 – ten – impressions of each of my remaining graphic works may be sold.”

Edvard Munch´s will be on display in exhibition no. 1 of the European Digital Treasures.


The first Munch Museum in Oslo opened its doors in 1963, almost twenty years after Munch’s death. After nearly 60 years, the old museum building no longer provides what Munch´s art requires and deserves.

The new Munch Museum, Lambda. Photo: Adrià Goula

The new museum is a highly distinctive museum building and is called Lambda. It has 11 galleries on 13 floors and a gallery space of 4,500 square meters. The new museum has been designed by the Spanish architect Juan Herreros and his partner Jens Richter from the architect practice Estudio Herreros. It will offer a range of approaches to Edvard Munch´s art and life, as well as works by other Modernists and contemporary artists in dialogue with Munch.

For more information see:

Edvard Munch´s life

Presentation of the new museum

Presentation of the old museum (in Norwegian)

A tour of Edvard Munch´s property

A tour of Edvard Munch´s summer house

Ole Gausdal, National Archives of Norway