The Norsk Høstfest: A Celebration of Ethnic Food and Ethnic Identity

“In true holistic fashion, Paul [Emch] convincingly demonstrates how this annual celebration is the focal point for the many powerful forces that have come to shape and define its special character–especially globalization, localization and ethnicity. This study breaks new ground and thus represents a tremendous achievement.”

-Dr. Timothy J. Kloberdanz, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Dakota State University

(October 2011) SIL International Publications and the International Museum of Cultures announce the release of a new book, The Norsk Høstfest: A Celebration of Ethnic Food and Ethnic Identity. This is the latest addition to the Publications in Ethnography series, which focuses on cultural studies of minority peoples in various parts of the world. While most volumes are authored by SIL staff, suitable works by others are occasionally included in the series.

Every autumn, the Norsk Høstfest attracts more than fifty-five thousand people to Minot, North Dakota, making it the largest Scandinavian festival in North America. This year’s Norsk Høstfest was held 27 September through 1 October.

Using the anthropological method of semiotic analysis, author Paul T. Emch demonstrates how the Norsk Høstfest celebrates what it means to be Norwegian-American, with a special focus on the important place of food in the event. Emch says,

My research is largely based on the premise that people communicate much about themselves and their culture through shared cultural symbols and through shared symbolic action…Food is quite possibly the most powerful symbol used within contemporary Norwegian-American culture to convey meaning.

Emch was raised in the western part of North Dakota, where the cultural heritage is predominantly German. While working on an MA in cultural anthropology at North Dakota State University, in the eastern part of the state, he became acquainted with many Norwegian-Americans, including his future wife. In this new context, he gained a deep appreciation for the Norwegian-American culture, which became a major focus of his research. Emch sees the Norsk Høstfest as much more than an occasion for Midwesterners of Scandinavian ancestry to converge to celebrate their traditions. More importantly, it allows for the maintenance of cultural identity in today’s rapidly changing world.


Tieglands at book table
Arne and Karen Teigland staff the SIL International Publications table at the 2011 Norsk Høstfest





The Norsk Høstfest provides historical context for Norwegian-American culture and for the Norsk Høstfest celebration, specifically. Topics include:

  • Food traditions of Norway in historical perspective
  • Demographics of Norwegian Americans in North Dakota
  • Traditional Norwegian cultural attributes continued in the New World
  • Historical and cultural background of the Norsk Høstfest
  • Specific symbols in Norwegian-American foodways and culture
  • A glossary of Norwegian and other non-English terms


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