AHA President, 1938 (passed away before completion of term)


University of Illinois

From the American Historical Review 43:3 (April 1938)

Laurence Marcellus Larson (September 23, 1868–March 9, 1938), professor of history emeritus at the University of Illinois and this year president of the American Historical Association, died on March 9 at his home in Urbana, in his seventieth year. Born near Bergen in Norway in 1868, Larson was brought to the United States two years later and spent his boyhood in a Norwegian community in northern Iowa. His undergraduate college course was taken at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, to be followed, after five years of secondary school teaching, by graduate studies in history at the University of Wisconsin, where he received his doctorate in 1902. He was fortunate in entering Wisconsin at a time when the department of history included in its membership two outstanding scholars in their respective fields-Frederick J. Turner and Charles H. Haskins. It was to Haskins in particular that he owed his initiation in the medieval studies in which he was to make his own most significant contributions.

In 1904 Larson published his monograph on The King’s Household before the Norman Conquest, winning high praise from so exacting a critic as the late Charles Gross, who noted the author’s exceptional linguistic equipment, his “lucid style,” and his competent use of the Norse sources. The book also attracted attention abroad, and shortly afterward Larson was selected to write the volume on Canute the Great (1912) in the Heroes of the Nations series. Other important contributions to the study of the Scandinavian Middle Ages were his translation of The King’s Mirror (1917) and the volume on The Earliest Norwegian Laws, translated and edited for the Records of Civilization (1935).

Beginning in 1905, Professor Larson’s contributions to this journal were numerous, and they continued until a few months before his death. Of special importance were his articles on “The Household of the Norwegian Kings” ( 1908), “The Political Policies of Canut as King of England” (1910), and “Prussianism in North Sleswick” (1919). Reference should be made also to his keen interest in his fellow Americans of Norwegian descent. In his last book, issued by the Norwegian-American Historical Association in 1937 and entitled The Changing West and Other Historical Essays, will be found sympathetic but realistic studies of the Norwegian element in the Northwest, based in part on recollections of his own youth.

Larson’s career as a university teacher began with his appointment as associate in history at the University of Illinois. From this position he was advanced by successive promotions during the next few years to a full professorship, which he held continuously until 1937, when he retired as professor emeritus; from 1923 to 1937 he was head of the department. He was generally recognized as one of the most skillful teachers in the university and a valued counselor on matters of educational policy. His loss will be felt most keenly by the intimate circle of his associates, past and present, who think of him first as a loyal colleague and generous friend. In the give and take of such intercourse, as well as in the classroom, discussion of weighty topics was lightened by sudden flashes of humor; but he will be remembered also as one who could “endure hardness as a good soldier”.


The Federal Compact of 1787. Madison: Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin, 1900.

The King’s Household in England Before the Norman Conquest. Madison: Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin, 1904.

A Financial and Administrative History of Milwaukee. Madison: Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin, 1908.

Canute the Great the Rise of Danish Imperialism during the Viking Age. New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1912.

A Short History of England and the British Empire. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1915.

The King’s Mirror. New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1917.

The Responsibility for the Great War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1918.

The Earliest Norwegian Laws: Being the Gulathing Law and the Frostathing Law. New York: Columbia University Press, 1935.

The Changing West: And Other Essays. Northfield, Minn.: Norwegian American Historical Association, 1937.

The Log Book of a Young Immigrant. Northfield, Minn.: Norwegian American Historical Association, 1939.