Scandinavian Studies gains expert on contemporary Scandinavian literature

​New professor Claus Elholm Andersen delves deeply into Knausgård and writes widely on Danish literature and culture.

August 30th 2017 | Katie Vaughn
Arts & Humanities, Faculty
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Photo by Sarah Morton

With experience teaching at the University of Helsinki and state universities in Los Angeles, Austin and the Twin Cities, Claus Elholm Andersen joins the Department of German, Nordic and Slavic as a new assistant professor of Danish.

Andersen, who was born in Denmark, is also the recipient of the Paul and Renate Madsen Professorship in Danish. He was drawn to the university partly because of the reputation of the department and its programs.

“Scandinavian Studies at UW-Madison has a long, proud history, the longest of any in the U.S., and with some of the top scholars in the field,” he says.

Andersen’s arrival brings expertise on contemporary Scandinavian literature, as well as the subject of the autobiography.

“My current research focuses on the six-volume autobiographical novel My Struggle by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård,” he says. “I’m interested in the tension between the autobiographical and the literary, and I’m also looking into the ways in which Knausgård insists on the importance of the subject at a time when it has otherwise been declared dead.

But that’s not all that makes him an exciting addition to the department, says Dean Krouk, assistant professor of Norwegian.

“While Knausgård has been Andersen’s most conspicuous research focus, it would be a mistake to overlook the substantial breadth of his expertise within Scandinavian studies,” he says. “He has published academic work on key figures from Danish literary history and given numerous public lectures on aspects of Danish and Scandinavian culture. And in the past few years he has also somehow found time to publish frequent literary reviews in the main Swedish-Finnish newspaper.”

Andersen’s teaching experience ranges from Danish language and literature to other topics in Scandinavian literature and culture, such as literature and ethics, crime fiction, the feminist tradition and theory of the novel. 

I also try hard to build a classroom environment that is learner-centered and filled with trust, so that students feel comfortable taking risks and participating actively in class discussions.

“He seems to win at least one teaching award everywhere he goes, most recently Best International Teacher at Helsinki, so UW-Madison students can expect an engaging classroom experience,” Krouk says.

Teaching students to think critically and work analytically is a priority for Andersen.

“I also try hard to build a classroom environment that is learner-centered and filled with trust, so that students feel comfortable taking risks and participating actively in class discussions by expressing their own ideas and opinions,” he says.

This fall, Andersen is teaching a fifth-semester Danish language instruction class and Contemporary Scandinavian Literature. “We will read Scandinavian literature from the past 10 years and ask the following basic questions: Does literature still matter today? Can contemporary authors tell us anything new about the world we live in? And are the problems and topics, described by Scandinavian writers, relevant to an American audience?”