The purpose of this article is to give an overview of urbanisering in North Norway during the 20th century. First, the concepts of town and urbanization and their use in the regional context are discussed. The analysis is based on population statistics, but adopts a functional concept of the town. In 1900 there were a few, small towns in North Norway; only five had more than 2000 inhabitants. By comparing the different towns, the development is described and explained respectively for the periods before and after the Second World War, while the five war years are treated separately. The number of towns grew towards 1940, but the level of urbanisation was still under twenty percent. In 2000, nearly half of the population of North Norway lived in towns. The reasons for the growth of the towns can vary from the one to the other. Nonetheless, the towns are categorised in groups in which both peculiarities and similarities and continuity and interruption in the development are summarized.
Sunnfjord experienced strong growth in local production as the spring herring fisheries increased sharply in the 1850s. The fishing was the basis for an increasing maritime adaptation. This showed itself in different ways for the inner and outer parts of coastal Sunnfjord. For the outer areas, the maritime adaptation was a prerequisite for making a living, because agriculture was incapable of feeding the population. In the inner areas the conditions for agriculture were better, and the increasing adaptation was triggered by increased opportunity for earnings in the fishery. The spring herring fishery here was more an incentive for adaptation than a necessity. The traditional system of provisioning the fishermen, organised by merchants in Bergen, was a prerequisite for such a maritime adaptation in the 1850s. The general liberalisation of trade, and especially the rise of local markets for fresh herring, contributed to the dissolution of the traditional system during the 1860s. The traditional system was utilised in the pioneer phase, particularly in areas that were not dependent on grain imports, but was unable to maintain its hold as increasing competition and in due course a decline in the resource base, led to altered patterns of activity.
The petition in Sparbu between the 8th and the 14th of August 1905: In August 1905 a referendum was held in which the question was approval or rejection of the parliamentary decision of the 7th of June, when the union of crowns with Sweden was abrogated. Women were not permitted to take part, but in the course of a few days they collected approximately 280,000 signatures in support of the decision. The question is how they managed to achieve this result. The village of Sparbu is selected to provide a close-up picture of how the operation was carried out in the countryside. All the 13 women who gathered 557 signatures between the 8th and the 14th of August were below 50 years of age. Many had a large family. The protesters were linked in informal, overlapping networks. Teachers, teachers’ wives and others associated with the teaching profession formed one such network. Another involved farmer’s wives and daughters from larger farms, some of whom were related. The network that was organised through the Norwegian Women’s Public Health Association and National Women’s Suffragette Association and which grew out of the community at Mære Agricultural College, was particularly influential. This community was peculiar for the village, but the other findings seem to confirm the few studies that have been previously made on the subject.
The expression “north of the moral circle” has been a popular saying when referring to Northern Norway. In literature and the media, the people of the north are presented as quite undiscriminating when it comes to marriage, sobriety or other affairs. The reality, however, is much more complex and nuanced. When it comes to sobriety, an investigation in the 1850s by clergyman and social science researcher Eilert Sundt showed that Troms and Nordland came out well. It was different with Finnmark; no other part of the country displayed so much drunkenness. This applied above all to the Sami population. But in the second half of the 1800s and up to 1920 there was a striking improvement. In the referendum of 1919, Finnmark, Troms and Nordland voted in favour of prohibition. The conservative Lutheran revival in the North Calotte, Laestadianism, which was against all alcohol consumption had great influence among the Sami people and those of Finnish descent. But abstinence-promoting organizations and other Christian organizations, key participants in community life and politics, also worked to reduce alcohol consumption during this period. And their efforts produced results. With the exception of the towns, it was almost impossible to buy alcohol in Northern Norway around 1920.
The article discusses the two traditions of swidden cultivation that existed in Norway from the 17th century AD and over the next 150-200 years. The Forest Finns migrated to Norway from Finland via Sweden in the 17th century. They grew rye, using a slash-and-burn technique, in old spruce forest. The swiddens were tilled for a couple of years, used as pasture, and left over to the forest again. The slash-and-burn technique they used was called «huuhta», and involved the burning of mature spruce forest to allow the cultivation of rye and turnips. They also had swiddens in mixed forest and in deciduous forest. There was also a tradition of slash-and-burn farming in Norway before the Forest Finns arrived. Several 17th and 18th century written sources describe this in a Norwegian context. The swiddens were found in mixed forest or deciduous forest, and were a supplement to the farming of the permanent fields. The two traditions differ in various respects. The Forest Finns had slash-and-burn farming as their main farming practice, while the Norwegians only used it as a supplement. The Forest Finns grew a type of rye which gave rich harvests in spruce forest, while the Norwegians farmed in mixed forest or deciduous forest.