Featured Selector: Todd Michelson-Ambelang, Librarian for Scandinavian Humanities, Classics, Jewish and South Asian Studies

September 27, 2017

When considering the vast and rich collections we have in our libraries, which represent areas of the where cultures, languages, and literatures are quite different from our own, Scandinavia is probably not the first place that comes to mind.  In fact, many think of the typical Scandinavian being a blonde hair and blue eyed Hans or Elsa—this is, in fact, not the case at all.  Scandinavia has always had a rich diversity—even if not fully appreciated—and throughout time, this has remained present, but also changed in scope. Some of the minority cultures that I collect to represent the underrepresented in Scandinavia are Sámi both in the North Sámi language and translation, as well as Greenlandic, Romani, Jewish, South American, and newer migrant literature and culture books in translation.  Here I want to focus on Sámi. (The outdated and derogatory term for Sámi is Lapland/Laplandish/Laplander).

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is fortunate enough to offer courses in the North Sámi language, one of the Fenno-Ugric Languages: a sister language to Finnish, but not mutually intelligible.  The Sámi, who historically inhabited Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia are a semi-nomadic and shamanistic group of people, who traditionally were reindeer herders. The treatment of these people in the nineteenth- and up to the mid-twentieth-centuries can be compared to those of many indigenous peoples around the world, including American Indians. The Sámi, like the American Indians during this time, were forced as children to attend boarding schools away from their families, where they were forbidden to speak their familial languages, take part in cultural practices, and forced to convert to Christianity as well as taking Christian names. The treatment of the Sámi may not be the same as it once was, but for many the prejudices, shame and stigma remain.

Because there are students and faculty on campus, who study the Sámi language, literature, culture, and folklore, but also because we need to remember that societies are never represented solely by the majority, I collect as many items as I can afford resources for, to help students and academics learn the language, conduct some research, complete their reading list requirements, and supplement our collections with a focus on including representations of Scandinavia from as many groups as possible.

Featured resources

This title allows non-readers of Sámi to access prose and poetry from the Sámi region:

In the shadow of the midnight sun: contemporary Sami prose and poetry

These titles are contemporary North Sámi textbooks, but are only available in Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish:

Davvin 1: nordsamisk for begynnere

Davvin 2: samisk for begynnere

Contact information

Todd Michelson-Ambelang, PhD


Librarian for Scandinavian Humanities, Classics, Jewish and South Asian Studies
Associate Lecturer of Scandinavian Studies, Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic
University of Wisconsin-Madison

278E Memorial Library
728 State Street
Madison, WI 5370

Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic
1348 Van Hise Hall
1220 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706


pronouns: he, him, his