MAPNA: Work in Progress

Norwegian-American Lutheran history has offered the St. Olaf MAPNA Undergraduate Research Team a rich field for preliminary studies.  Primary sources are abundant and accessible and also provide provide substantial bodies of quantitative data.  The field is well supported with existing secondary studies as well.  We have discovered this to be an ideal subject for trials of analytical technique and graphic presentation.

We anticipate presentation of a web-based study of Norwegian-American Lutheran history  preliminary to the Atlas of Norwegian-American History.  What follows are samples of our work, selected maps and graphs still under development.  All of these images are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without written permission.


The basic cell of the Norwegian-American Lutheran church life was the local congregation.  Each congregation was defined by regular provision for preaching, baptism, and the administration of the Lord's Supper and each adopted a fairly common form of governance.   Some congregations had pastors on a regular basis and others did not.  By the time of World War I, Norwegian-American Lutherans had established over six thousand of these local congregations.  More than three thousand remained in existence by by 1917.   By this period the geographical reach of this religious tradition was established and the number of congregations would remain fairly stable until the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to which the large majority belonged, merged with denominations of other ethnic backgrounds in 1960.

Our initial plan was to show the locations of these congregations with points located by latitude and longitude, but the number of congregations in the same or nearly the same locations and the scale of our maps, made this impossible.  We then settled on a choropleth presentation, which offers a representation better suited to our data and the scale of our maps.  The following map shows the number of congregations by county of the bodies that united to form the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America in 1917.

          © Todd W. Nichol, 2006


While remarkably durable and self-reliant, the Norwegian-American Lutheran congregations banded into a number of denominations.  We have created a series of maps that show the relative strength of the major denominations.  The map below indicates which of the Norwegian Lutheran denominations had the largest number of congregations by county. Our map has both the explanatory power and the limitations of the so-called Red/Blue maps regularly used to interpret the current political scene in the United States.  On this matter we have found the discussion of Mark Monmonier, Mapping it Out: Expository Cartography for the Humanities and Social Sciences(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) instructive.  We recommend reading it and other titles by the same author.  On the matter of chorpleth mapping we have also found the following website informative: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/.

© Todd W. Nichol, 2006

Global Mission

Although themselves often battling to survive in pioneering situations, whether rural or urban, Norwegian-American Lutherans devoted considerable energy and resources to the global mission movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.   China in particular drew the interest of Norwegian-Americans, and they established a vigorous presence there.  This map identifies only the major mission stations of the principal Norwegian-American Lutheran denominations in the Henan and Hubei provinces in the years between 1900-1945.  These major stations had many smaller outposts, some in locations now forgotten.

© Todd W. Nichol, 2006

Congregational size

Quantitative approaches have provided us with answers to some questions and opened other questions that invite further research.

Early on in our research we wanted to get a sense for the size of Norwegian-American Lutheran congregations.  We arranged our data in order to generate a histogram showing the distribution of sizes.  The results are very clear: a large majority of these congregations were under 150 members.  If we postulate a family size of six in 1900 an average congregation might have had perhaps twenty families along with some individual members.  We learned from this that these were small and economically vulnerable organizations.  The tasks of raising churches, providing for ministers, and the regular round of worship, education, and provision for the rounds of life from baptism to burial must have required strenuous giving and energy from these small companies of immigrants and their descendants.

© Todd W. Nichol, 2006

Gender ratios

Looking at census data for 1910 confronted us with evidence that surprised us.  The ratio of men to women among Norwegian Lutherans was high compared to other American denominations.  By 1936 only one denomination had a higher proportion of men to women.  In this measure Norwegian Lutherans reported proportionally more male members than, for example, the Joint Synod of Wisconsin among other Lutheran bodies and than the Roman Catholic Church.  Comparative figures and an instructive graph may be consulted in
Religious Bodies: 1936, Volume I, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1941), p. 23.   Our graph illustrates the proportion of men to women among the Norwegian-American Lutheran bodies.  We have not satisfactorily explained the differential between Norwegian Lutherans and other religious bodies as a whole nor can we account for the differences among the Norwegian Lutherans.  We are aware that findings regarding the smaller Norwegian Lutheran bodies (E.g. Eielsen's Synod and the Church of the Lutheran Brethren) may not be reliable due to very small sample sizes. 


UC:      United Norwegian Lutheran Church
NS:      Norwegian Synod
LFC:    Lutheran Free Church
HS:      Hauge's Synod
ES:      Eielsen's Synod
CLB:   Church of the Lutheran Brethren

© Todd W. Nichol, 2006