Historian Edgars Andersons

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Edgars Andersons was born on 17. June 1920 in Tukums, Zemgale. Zemgale is one of the four regions which make up Latvia one of the three Baltic Republics. His mother came from an old Riga based Latvian family which included ship builders, sailors, clerks, mechanics and painters who were all bounded by their love of music and literature. His father’s roots went as far as Westphalia, Germany but most of his ancestors had Swedish last names. His father’s family included soldiers, barkeepers, land owners, publishers and clerks most of whom had a real interest in history. During WW I Anderson’s father was captured by the Germans. Twice he managed to escape only to get as far as to the border of The Netherlands. On the third attempt he made it through Poland and reached Russia. Back in Latvia Anderson’s father worked as a clerk for the Ministry of Justice. Anderson himself said that the greatest influence on his upbringing was his father Voldemars who during his free time studied about music, history, literature and politics. He also wrote a lot of interesting biographical sketches and literary works.

            Anderson spent most of his childhood in Riga. After finishing Riga’s 2nd High School he began studying at The University of Latvia as a history major. He once said that it was his great love for literature that led him into the world of history.  During this time he developed a real interest in Latvia’s complicated history and his professor A. Svabe thought he would excel in this field. As it turned out Anderson gained the most knowledge through German, Dutch and American universities. Anderson wrote articles about Scandinavian, English and American writers, some poems and two North American Prose Anthologies “The Western World” and “The Western Horizon” both of which received great notice from American literates. He also wrote for many Latvian literary magazines and newspapers. Later on Anderson became an editor first for a magazine and then for a newspaper. His term paper was about the western influence on St. Petersburg newspapers.

            During wartime in Latvia and during the early years in exile in Czechoslovakia and Germany Anderson lived through moments of starvation and dangerous situations but never lost his optimism. When he finally got out into the world he said that he took every opportunity to see interesting, noteworthy places and to read and learn. Once things settled down he continued his studies in history at Julius Maximilian’s University Wurzburg. During his university years he formed the Latvian Student Central Association which was for Latvian students who were studying in foreign universities. Anderson also took part in International Student and Historian Conventions.

            Finally he got the opportunity to go to the United States. There he continued his studies financing them by doing odd jobs. In 1953 he attended Lake Forest College while also working at the University of Chicago which was a distance away. It was a difficult time but he finally received his Ph.D. In 1957 Anderson moved to California and began work at the San Jose State University which had the largest history department on the west coast.  In five years time he became a full professor. Also in 1957 Anderson traveled to the ancient Courland (in Latvian Kurzeme, one of the four regions that make up Latvia) colony Tobago (the smaller of the two main islands making up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago). The government of Trinidad and Tobago contracted Anderson for a lecture and radio lecture tour. In 1959 he assisted Engineer Staure in creating a Latvian film about Tobago. Anderson attended many American and International Conventions where he gave lectures and was part of many debates. In this way he said that he got to know all of North America, the West Indies and a large part of Europe. He educated many American historians who later became his colleagues and many of them also specialized in the problems of the Baltic States. All this time he continued to be true to his homeland and also educated people in the history of the Baltic States.

            Anderson wrote articles for the following magazines among many others Caribbean Quarterly, Baltische Hefte, The Swedish Historical Quarterly, The Nation, and Hispanic American Historical Review. In regards to the history of Latvia he wrote for The Journal of Central European Affairs, Slavic Review and Universitas. His two greatest works are as follows “The Baltic Area in World Affairs”, 1914-1945 (3 volumes) and “Latvijas Starptautiskais Stavoklis” (Latvia’s International Situation) 1914-1929 and 1929-1945 (2 volumes). He also wrote in English about the Crimea War in Northeastern Europe and the 19th century history of Europe. These works were published in the United States, Germany and Sweden.

            Anderson said that work gave his life meaning and that eventually we would all die but our work would remain for other generations. A historian has to be brave enough to tell the truth and sometimes do some detective work to gain perspective from the chaos created by people’s weaknesses.

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