To many, Norway is a land of extremes. One of the wealthiest countries in the world, it's also said to be home to the happiest people who benefit from the strongest social welfare system, frolicking among the fjords and vistas in one of the world's most democratic societies. Paradise. While many of these superlatives are indeed part of Norwegian life, for most who live in Norway, the country is a space that is better described as moderate. For example, the weather is slow to change over long periods of time, there is a high level of wage equality within a large middle class, and ruling political parties typically must work together in coalitions. For better or worse, Norway is a land of moderation. Nordic moderation stands in stark contrast to the very recent extreme political rhetoric and actions of the U.S. Republican Party and responses from leftist groups in the form of rallies and protests. International media coverage of U.S. unrest, which lingers on images of violence and destruction, has bolstered student interest in the African American literature I teach in my classes and has ignited conversations about equity, the long history of slavery and its repercussions in the U.S., and the representation of these and related issues in literature. The explosive and divisive news stories have caught the attention of students in a country whose own complex history of race and colonial power is not widely discussed or taught.  

The violence of George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police in 2020 brought forth the apex of the Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013 after Trayvon Martin's murder. Although demonstrations calling for justice and culpability for Floyd's murder spread across the globe, the U.S. is the epicenter of the fight over accountability for violence, particularly state violence, targeted at Black people.1 For those looking at the United States from a distance, this very recent era of pushback against police brutality, the removal of commemorative Confederate monuments and memorials, and former President Trump's statement that there were "good people on both sides" of the Charlottesville, Virginia white supremacist rally that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, are electrifying and can appear unprecedented. Although African American-authored texts have always been of special interest to my students, I sensed their heightened curiosity, primarily because many of the events mentioned dominated international news stories, and because my students were under the impression that violence, racism, and discrimination are something that happens "over there" seemingly quite removed from a Norwegian system of unarmed police,2 an egalitarian society, and rational politicians.

While I am keen to support my students' interests, I worried about their perception of Black and white relations in the U.S. as something exotic, far removed from their own reality, and of recent events as unprecedented. I wanted them to understand how the larger, longer history of race in America contributed to the turmoil that Americans found themselves within in 2020. I wanted my students to gain insight on their own country's complex racial history. Further, I wanted my students to feel informed and prepared to act in their own locale, to take up critical positions, to contribute to their communities in a positive way. I did not want to contribute to the phenomenon of passive observation, as if racial violence in the U.S. were just another reality television show. In this, I bore in mind Rudine Sims Bishop's writing on the power and potential of literature in the classroom. She writes:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined,
familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or
recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can
also be a mirror.3

In a country like Norway, where the majority of educators are white and Norwegian, yet almost 20% of the population comes from a diverse immigrant background, the inclusion of broad representation in classroom literature and discussion is necessary. Just as I take Bishop's words to heart when I select the readings for my courses, I imagine my teacher education students including diverse literature for the students in their future classrooms. Within the context of heightened interest in African American literature in a transnational setting, Bishop's call for windows, mirrors, and sliding doors takes on an additional sense of urgency. However, I feared that white readers in Norway might struggle with Bishop's call to view literature as a mirror. In a transatlantic context, what might this entail? I turned to Global Citizenship education as a way to truly connect this literature to a Norwegian/Scandinavian context.

Promoted by UNESCO and embraced by educators from around the globe, Global Citizenship Education (GCED) is a framework, "a prism through which education can be seen," that connects to classroom practices, policy development, and programming at cultural institutions that helps students see how they are connected to one another economically, environmentally, socially, and politically.4 Importantly, GCED also promotes action and accountability that students also understand how they can play an active role in addressing the issues that affect us all. This approach to teaching literature can facilitate students' knowledge and understanding of global issues such as human rights and climate change and facilitate connections between the reader and the issues that are explored in the pages of the text. This process entails fostering students' understanding of our global society and their place within it by utilizing a transnational perspective. This promotes a reading process that helps deepen the understanding that there are many ways of living and being and that they are connected to many of the social issues they might read about. GCED allows me to help students reach the "mirrors" stage of Bishop's adage.

My approach to teaching African American literature in Norway, using GCED as a framework, is a process of translation. In a country where all students have English instruction as early as first grade, I do not refer to language. Instead, I ask students to look deep within the "literary mirror" of fiction to locate themselves via local and national connections to the context and issues described in the novels. In this process, neither myself nor my students are comparing, equating, or conflating histories. Instead, we are exploring issues from different locations in order to learn about their embeddedness in different societies.5

As example, I will discuss my approach to teaching Colson Whitehead's 2016 novel, The Underground Railroad. The novel follows Cora, who runs for her freedom from a Georgia plantation in the Antebellum South by relying on the Underground Railroad, which is depicted by Whitehead as a real railway transportation system. Whitehead uses alternating first-person narration, switching between Ajarry (Cora's grandmother), Ridgeway (a slave catcher looking for Cora), Stevens (a South Carolina doctor conducting experiments on formerly enslaved people), Ethel (the wife of an Underground Railroad station agent), Caesar (a fellow escapee and Cora's romantic interest), and Mabel (Cora's mother). The novel moves throughout the U.S., following Cora's path through Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Indiana, and the "North." Though a work of fiction, Whitehead incorporates many historical elements (albeit sometimes synthesized in deliberately ahistorical form), including advertisements of "lost" enslaved people that were distributed by slave patrollers.

I chose this novel (rather than work with literature published during the era of slavery by authors such as Harriet Jacobs or Frederick Douglass, cited by Whitehead as influences on his novel) because the 2016 publication date of The Underground Railroad relays one of the major points I wished the students to understand that slavery and its legacies are woven throughout our contemporary moment. I also use this opportunity to introduce Afrofuturism as a means by which Black artists and writers have explored, reclaimed, and revised the African American experience to imagine visions of the future or to reimagine the past using elements of science fiction and fantasy. Afrofuturist art that transcends time periods and borders demonstrates many of the features that a GCED framework values, particularly in its emphasis upon the connectivity between individuals and the repercussions of slavery within a global context.

To begin, I provide my students with the cultural and historical context of the novel, including information on the history of slavery, and I build a discussion that leads to our contemporary moment with information about Afrofuturism. In order to connect with students on a more immediate and personal level, I also discuss Norway's own complicated (and often hidden) connections to the slave trade.6 Norway was itself subject to colony-like relations with Denmark from 1521-1814, and then part of a union with Sweden until gaining independence in 1905. While Norway did not have colonies of its own, it did engage in what Bjørn Enge Bertelsen calls "noncolonial colonialism," with shipping and trade routes, control of plantations and farms, and other colonialist ventures in locations such as Mozambique, Kenya, and the Solomon Islands. "Nordic people," states Bertelsen, "were not exempt from the general European-wide nationalist discourse and the political ambitions of colonial aspirations".7 As an outsider coming from the United States to Norway, this "noncolonial colonial" history was something I learned only after research. I was surprised that my students were also unfamiliar with Norway's colonial era history. We also discuss Lill-Ann Körber's research. Körber finds that Norway's maritime power during the colonial era also extended into bringing enslaved people and settlers to Denmark's St. Thomas colonies (in what are now the U.S. Virgin Islands) and even included the cruel punishment of enslaved men in St. Croix in the service of the Danish crown. This is, Körber writers, a history which "contradicts the self-image of many Scandinavians".8 Such history matters because, as my students see when learning about the history of slavery and race relations in the United States, it haunts our contemporary moment in many ways in a racist justice system and violent white authority figures. In Norway, this racial history can be a bit more insidious and therefore easier to miss, especially for white Scandinavians. We discuss more overt examples of racial violence, such as the murder of young Benjamin Hermansen in 2001. The child of a Norwegian mother and a Ghanian father, 15-year-old Hermansen was stabbed to death by fellow teens who identified as neo-Nazis. We also discuss systemic discrimination and the usage of terms like "ethnic Norwegian," which has become a stand-in term for "white Norwegian," leaving out many other Norwegians of color. Writing on Norwegian hip-hop music, Matthew Teutsch, has written that "this exclusion, through terms such as 'ethnic Norwegian' and the continued use of derogatory language in public discourse, works to position individuals as outsiders, as threats to a supposed pure ethnic ancestry".9

Connecting student readers to seemingly distant issues through literature not only helps them see how they are accountable, but also how they might take action. The process of translating racial issues within a Scandinavian setting allows students to feel empowered within their local and personal contexts. My students consider how text selection in their future (or current) classrooms speaks to Bishop's claims of literature as windows, sliding doors, and mirrors. They can make informed choices about their classroom readings and how they might build connections to historical and cultural issues, issues that still have life and meaning in today's world. By using a GCED approach to teaching African American literature and culture in Norwegian higher education classes, students see how they are implicated within their local and contemporary contexts. Though not a direct "translation," so to speak, the texts and the social issues they depict are imbued with new meanings within the Norwegian classroom when students are able to think locally about global problems. This approach anticipates and forestalls the "reality TV effect," or the notion that these seemingly far-way issues, although interesting, do not impact them. It also attempts to head off the sanitizing effect of empathy, what Jade E. Davis identifies as when "change and action stop being necessary in empathy culture because the feeling and sense of understanding are action enough".10 Offering up so-called "multicultural literature" as a good to student readers simply because doing so ticks boxes in curriculum goals is insufficient in a world where readers can temporarily "inhabit" the world of an Other but abandon that world (and the responsibilities it indicates) just as quickly. Instead, GCED enlightens, connects, and empowers readers in a world that has become increasingly and unavoidably global.11

Eir-Anne Edgar is Associate Professor of Literature in English at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. During the 2023-2024 academic year, she is a Research Associate at the Five Colleges Women's Studies Research Center in Amherst MA where she is at work on her manuscript "Women in the Wastelands: the World-Making of Feminist Dystopian Fiction" (SUNY UP) and a second manuscript on teaching literature and culture to develop global citizenship skills in higher ed and secondary education students. Her work can be found in The Journal of Popular Culture, English Journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education and other venues.


  1. Ben Okri suggests that Floyd's "I can't breathe" statement has had global impact because people have realized "to passively sanction the diminishment of anyone's humanity on any ground is to begin to sanction your own diminishment too." Ben Okri, "'I Can't Breathe': Why George Floyd's Words Reverberate around the World", Journal of Transnational American Studies 12, no. 1 (2021).[]
  2. According to Steinar Vee Henriksen and Bjørn Ivar Kruke's survey on Norwegian police and firearms, police are often (but not always) unarmed. They also find that the usage of firearms in police assignments has more than doubled over a ten-year period. "Norwegian Police Use of Firearms: Critical Decision-Making in Dynamic and Stressful Situations," Nordic Journal of Studies in Policing 7, no. 2 (2020): 99-120. Additionally, it is important to note that Norwegian police have committed acts of brutality while unarmed. 48-year-old Eugene Ejike Obiora, a Norwegian citizen of Nigerian heritage, was killed by Norwegian police while being held in custody in Trondheim, September 2006. See Paul Gilroy, foreword to Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe, ed. Michael MacEachrane, New York: Routledge, 2014), xiv. An April 2023 incident in Kongsberg involved multiple officers beating two men while another deleted recorded footage from a bystander's phone. This incident has incited calls for the required usage of bodycams by Norway's police force. Nina Berglund, "Police Brutality in Norway, Too," Norway's News in English, May 1, 2023.[]
  3. Rudine Bishop, "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors," Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom 6, no. 3 (1990): 9-11, 9.[]
  4. "What You Need to Know about Global Citizenship Education," UNESCO, n.d.[]
  5. Sara Spurgeon writes about the interconnective threads between Texas and Norway uncovered in her course on "Literature, Social Justice, and the Environment" at the University of Bergen, specifically in discussing indigenous topics and histories. Like my students approaching racial histories, her students see how their futures can be impacted lest they address lingering issues that bind us all, globally. "Transnational American Studies, Ecocritical Narratives, and Global Indigeneity: A Year of Teaching in Norway," Journal of Transnational American Studies 13, no. 2 (2022).[]
  6. Paul Gilroy writes, "To the culture of ignorance that has engulfed Europe's imperial past, we must add the impact of what can only be called a patterned amnesia. There is an active forgetting about the colonial history of the Nordic countries." Foreword to Afro-Nordic Landscapes, xi. []
  7. Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, Bertelsen, "Introduction Norwegians Navigating Colonial Orders in Africa and Oceania" in Navigating Colonial Orders: Norwegian Entrepreneurship in Africa and Oceania, ed. Kirsten Alsaker Kjerland and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen (New York: Berghahn Books, 2015), 1-37.[]
  8. Lill-Ann Körber, "Scandinavia and the Slave Trade," translated by Jo Beckett, Goethe-Institut Norwegen, February 2020.[]
  9. Matthew Teutsch, "Blackness, Norwegian Identity, and Nationality," AAIHS, July 22, 2021.[]
  10. Jade E. Davis, The Other Side of Empathy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2023), 2.[]
  11. Additionally, Norway's refugee population has increased in the past decade, with almost 30,000 asylum seekers having filed applications in 2023. "Asylum Applications Lodged in Norway by Citizenship and Month (2023)," UDI, n.d. The majority of Norway's recent refugees come from Syria, Ukraine, and Afghanistan. In a recent study in Nature, researchers found that although support for refugees from the Ukraine was slightly higher than refugees of other backgrounds, general support for refugees has increased from the members of 15 different European countries, including Norway. Kirk Bansak, Jens Hainmueller, and Dominik Hangartner. "Europeans' Support for Refugees of Varying Background Is Stable over Time," Nature 620, no. 7975 (2023): 849-54.[]