Birger Bergersen


August 19, 2022

Birger Martin Bergersen (born July 25, 1891 in Kvæfjord, Troms, † July 14, 1977 in Oslo) was a Norwegian anatomist, zoologist, university lecturer, diplomat and politician of the Arbeiderpartiet, who, among other things, was rector of the Norwegian School of Dentistry between 1939 and 1945 (Norges Tannlegehøyskole), 1947-1953 Ambassador to Sweden and 1953-1960 in the Torp government and in the third Gerhardsen government Minister for Churches and Education. As Minister for Church and Education, Bergersen was a key player in the reform work in Norwegian schools that began in the mid-1950s. Less well known but probably more significant was the international work he was doing as early as the 1930s and after World War II in an effort to reduce the slaughter of the large whale populations in the Southern Ocean. This work eventually led to the establishment of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1946, of which Bergersen became the first chairman. For his many years of service to science and research, Bergersenfjella, Statsrådsbreen and Birgerhøgda were named in his honor in Queen Maud Land in East Antarctica.


Journalist, teaching and zoology studies

Birger Martin Bergersen, son of the teacher Hans Christian Bergersen (1835-1925) and Ingeborg Kristine Heitmann (1848-1938), completed his schooling at the Fru Ragna Nielsens Skole in Kristiania in 1909 and began working as a journalist for the daily newspaper Social in 1910 -Democrats. In 1915 he graduated as a teacher (Lærerskoleeksamen) and worked for a year as a teacher at the elementary school in Kristiania. He then began studying medicine at the University of Kristiania in 1916, but after two years in 1918 he switched to the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. During his studies he became curator at the local natural history museum in 1920 and assistant at the Zoological Museum in 1921. He passed the exam with zoology as a major in 1925 as Cand.real. to Kristine Bonnevie, a biologist and Norway's first female professor, whose fields of research were cytology, genetics and embryology. His diploma thesis Undersøkelser av myotomets differentiation og utviklingen av korium hos syngnathids dealt with studies on the structure and development of the corium and the development of the skin shields in syngnathids. Bergersen's overall student years were long, as he continued to work as a journalist, curator and assistant to Kristine Bonnevie, while also being very active in student life, such as board member of the Studentenwerk and chairman of the Social Democratic Student Association. He was acquainted with many cultural figures such as Sigurd Hoel, Erling Winsnes, Herman Wildenvey, Arnulf Øverland.

Study visits, university lecturers and rector of the University of Dentistry

In 1925, just a few months after graduating, Birger Bergersen was appointed Lecturer and Head of the Department of Anatomy at the Norwegian College of Dentistry (Norges Tannlegehøyskole). He eventually supplemented his education with a series of study visits to Sweden, Denmark, France and the USA. In addition to his teaching and research activities, he became a member of a newly established Norwegian-Soviet seal hunting commission (Den norsk-sovjetiske selkommisjonen) in 1926. This had the task of setting quotas for the fishing fleets of the two countries. Both the work of the commission and his contributions and work were considered so successful that he remained a member of this commission until 1958. He was also a board member of the Maritime Museum (Norsk Sjøfartsmuseum) between 1928 and 1967. In 1932 he was promoted to Dr. philos. doctorate. His doctoral thesis Contributions to the Knowledge of H