Established in 1992 through a gift from the Norwegian government and the Kenneth O. Bjork Endowment Fund, the King Olav V Chair in Scandinavian-American Studies was created to ensure the continued study of Scandinavian and Scandinavian-American history at St. Olaf College. The holder of the chair also serves as editor for the Norwegian American Historical Association (NAHA) whose archives are located on the St. Olaf campus. The first holder of this chair was Odd S. Lovoll, professor of history and Norwegian.
Professor Margaret O’Leary first came to St. Olaf in 1977 as an Instructor in Norwegian. After obtaining the PhD, she rejoined the college as an Assistant Professor in 1986, advancing to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure in 1993, and to the rank of Professor in 2000. In addition to teaching courses on Norwegian language, literature, and culture, she has led off-campus courses in Norway. She has also taught at the University of Oslo International Summer School, has led St. Olaf Study Tours, and twice has served as a lecturer for Smithsonian tours in Scandinavia.
O’Leary has published six books and is also an active digital publisher. She has served as president and vice-president of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study, president of the Norwegian Teachers Association of North America, and Nordmans-Forbundet Commissioner. She is a member of the board of the Norwegian-American Historical Society.
Professor O’Leary is currently serving as the Associate Dean of Humanities. She has served as chair of the Department of Norwegian, chair of the Department of German, Registrar, and interim Associate Dean of Interdisciplinary and General Studies. In recognition of her work in higher education and in promoting knowledge of Norway in the United States, the Norwegian government designated Margaret O’Leary as an officer, Knight 1st class, of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit.