About The Author


As we all go into the Sesquicentennial, I’m interested to know what you’re thinking about doing, what concerns you have, what help we can be to each other. It would be really useful, I think, if we could invent this wheel together (or at least the part of the wheel that suits us). My particular interest is linking academic and public historians, so I’m also interested to know what kind of help the academics might be able to offer. (For another purpose, a group of various kinds of Minnesota historians have met a couple of times and have begun to put together a list of names, e-mail addresses, and specialties in the field as well as list of important secondary sources and primary documents in print and on line — would you be interested in these lists, for example?) The academic historians, for our part, are looking for outlets for our work, too.

So, my special interest is to find ways that we can help each other. What would be the best forms for that help?

Anyone interested in talking about this?


Annette Atkins
Professor of History
Saint John’s University/College of Saint Benedict

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11 Responses to Helping Public History for MN 150

  1. Deborah Morse-Kahn says:

    Annette, I admire and support this timely question, thank you for posting it.

    My first thought–and second, and possibly third–is that there is a world of specialization in all areas of Cultural Resource Management (CRM), the umbrella under which our many disciplines used to study our collective story are gathered. I want that wonderful list being developed to go beyond the Usual Suspects in Minnesota history research. I have met marvelously skilled and approachable folks in professional and avocational roles who quietly labor under the radar because they are not publishing, or not holding academic rank, or running an agency or CRM firm.

    Beyond the many First Nation Peoples whose lives and prehistory are well represented in state historic affairs, Minnesota also represents countless ethnic, cultural and religious subgroups, a great many of which are vigorously active in maintaining an accurate record of their early presence here and their continuing sagas. I do not want their work subsumed by academic or agency representatives in an attempt to provide legitimacy: they are legitimate as they stand and know more than we do. Let’s bring them inside the circle and, in doing so, make no attempt to "manage" them.

    I am seeing the same names and agencies appear again and again in recent years, as we moved toward both the Preservation conference and the Sesquicentennial. Out there in the wider world of Minnesota are remarkable people who must be approached, consulted, included. There are faculty folks in every corner of the state quietly laboring in their modest but amazing worlds of regional study. There are young folks coming through the pipeline of Public History and Archaeology who, if we are very lucky to have them remain in or choose Minnesota as their home base, are going to blow us all out of the water if given a chance to show what they can do, and they are going to change the face of Public History in this state.

    We need to go find these folks and I for one am ready to help make that happen. I make lists for a living: use me! 🙂

    Thanks for listening, everyone…Deborah


  2. Greg Britton says:

    Anyone contemplating our celebration of Minnesotas sesquicentennial should watch the film, Waiting for Guffman, as a cautionary tale of one towns effort to celebrate its history. Without some thoughtful preparation, any celebration can descend into irrelevant glorification of a mythic pastthe interpretive dance of happy pioneers. Oh, the glory of our founders!

    Instead, we might think of this event as the opportunity to enliven the study of our past as a way to better understand our community and ourselves. Professional and public historians have tried this for years with mixed success. As a culture we still view history as an add-on or curiosity, not something essential for a vital and healthy society.

    As historians, we need to be outspoken providing a historical perspective of current events. This means putting ourselves in front of the media–in letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, on blogs and list-serves, in the classroom and in public meetings–on all matters of public discourse. We need to work at articulating the importance of that historical perspective in our world. We cant accomplish this through one single act or statement, but through consistent effort to change a society that it woefully ahistorical.

    My hope for the sesquicentennial is that in some small way we can convince Minnesotans that thinking about our past may provide some direction for our future. Now that would give us something to celebrate.


  3. Greg Britton says:

    I would be interested in hearing what activities and programs other local and county historical societies are planning for the sesquicentennial.


  4. Mary Warner says:

    Society is not ahistorical. It just happens to be made up of people who are self-interested and easily distracted. Appeal to our self-interest and keep us from getting bored and well get involved in history. If society were truly ahistorical, The History Channel would never survive, along with its cousins The Discovery Channel and The Travel Channel, which both serve up heavy doses of history.

    Greg is right in saying that historians need to be out front and communicating our history through a variety of venues, but we cant be playing the same old record: History is good for you!  Youd better know your history because its important in shaping our future.  Remember these events, dates, and people. I dont care if they dont seem to relate to your life. Blah, blah, blah. Even the most sordid gossip about the latest star will be tuned out by the masses if its repeated too often.

    The trouble with History is that it is too big and unwieldy as a general topic. For individuals, the fascination and the personal connections come when you break it down. Ask knitters about knitting history. Ask Civil War buffs about Civil War history. Thats where youre likely to get an earful.

    While the MN150 list is interesting for what it tells us about Minnesota as a whole, the list of submitted suggestions is far more revealing and suggests a complexity that is unmatched in the chosen 150. Arbitrary limits are obviously necessary in this case (i.e. for the exhibit and the book and etc.), but they also leave part of the audience behind. In looking over the list of 150, I found only 8 topics to which Morrison County can lay only partial claim  Cass Gilbert, Glaciation, Grasshoppers, Immigrants, Charles Lindbergh, Jr., Red River Trails, Religious Orders, and the Treaty of 1837 (which is only a tangential claim at best).

    At this moment, we have no specific plans for celebrating the Minnesota Sesquicentennial; however, we just held our annual meeting in which we featured a program that discussed local architecture in general and Cass Gilbert specifically. Part of the reason we dont have plans for the state sesquicentennial is that we celebrated the Morrison County Sesquicentennial in 2006. This event was several years in the making for us and the county. We concentrated great effort on it because it was a direct part of our mission. As for the MN150 topics to which Morrison County has a connection, well keep promoting them (and much more) in our regular activities and special events. Its what we do.


  5. Mary Warner says:

    Sorry, Annette, I didn’t help with your request in my last comment. I got too distracted by the word ‘ahistorical.’ Have you considered using MHS’s list of Historical Organizations for your list? Many of us have websites that contain history. Ours has over 100 articles posted from our past newsletters. I’m sure most historical organizations also have some indexes and bibliographies available for their collections, which might be helpful in your request for primary and secondary sources. We have several indexes online, including our Family Files index, a list of county grocery stores, one of county Civil War vets, and one of Korean War personnel. Click the Family Names link on our website to get the Family Files index. For the rest, look under the History link and find the "archived online" link within the text. (Or use this address to simplify things: http://www.morrisoncountyhistory.org/history2.html).

    Do you have a central location (i.e. email address, wiki, blog) to collect this sort of information?


  6. Krista Fisnstad Hanson says:

    I am one of those under-the-radar historians so thought I would post my interpretation of the previous comments. I am the author of Minnesota Open House – a travel guided featuring 191 historic house museums in Minnesota – and which, lucky for me, was published by the Greg Britton and Co. at the MHS Press this spring.

    First off in terms of the sesquicentennial I would love to share in some capacity my Powerpoint presentation that I have prepared and have been delivering to and hope to continue delivering to county historical societies and most recently at the JJ Hill house and the American Swedish Institute. (I would love to know who to contact about this!)

    My book is organized geographically and my presentation shows the viewers representative architectural styles chronologically from 1778-1802 (Grand Portage) to 1970 (Fred Manfred’s house in Luverne) while showing people the wealth of architecture, the variety of museums, and samplings of the great history out there to be told.

    ** Back to the connection piece. As someone who is totally out of the loop because I work by day as an English teacher in the public schools, it is a challenge for me to remain connected and to be deemed a reputable historian when although I have now three published books and numerous articles under my belt, no one knows who I am.

    For a long time I have been a MHS & Ramsey Co. HS member, as well as a member of the organizations best suited to my interests – that of the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (MNSAH), the Minn Preservation Alliance and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

    But in promoting my book (and figuring out how that happens) I have slowly found myself connecting more within the actual world of historians.

    In the last year I have joined my neighborhood history group (the Hamline Midway History Corps – http://www.hamlinemidwayhistory.org), subscribed to this listserv, and connected with other historians at the Twin Cities History Forum. In addition my neighborhood work has led me to become involved in the creation of a walking tour map of my ‘hood, and now advocating for the preservation of properties along University Avenue with the planning for LRT through my neighborhood and into St. Paul.

    All I have to say from all of this is that making connections certainly helps and asking questions of those in the know is how I keep learning. There is really so much out there and there can never be one place where we can learn it all.

    St. Paul historians have different resources to mine than Minneapolis and likewise each county and then of course we have the wealth and variety of state resources. However, groups like the Twin Cities History Forum are trying to link the independent historians with academics, MHS staff with city and local university archivists– and it seems to me like this has certainly been a first. This effort could be a model to be emulated elsewhere or it could die a slow death from all of us being pulled in too many directions.

    I would be glad to be connected even further but as a freelancer who does this work currently "on the side" I feel I am not able to make that leap. No one is paying me to attend the National Trust conference or other historical conferences. And the people who have jobs in the field still remain the ones in the know. Heading into that next level of participating in and generating historical research for large scale projects, applying for grants, and getting the work out in the world is nearly impossible to do well without being a paid staffer of some group…. or having a large active volunteer base as part of a group. Independents such as myself can only hope to gain access to information and resources by spending a great deal of time trying to stay connected and informed.

    Cheers to you all and I welcome any feedback!

    Krista Finstad Hanson


  7. Mary Warner says:

    Hi, Krista – Welcome to the listserv! You mentioned your book, "Minnesota Open House." Did you know that this listserv can give you a subtle advertising avenue? When you posted your comment, there was an opportunity for you to add a website, which links up through your name. Deborah has a link to hers through her name, and I’m actually linked to two websites through my name. With this post, because I’m writing it at home (off work time), I’ve linked to my blog. For the other posts, I’ve linked to my work website.

    As soon as you gave the title of your book, I looked at your name to see if you had linked to a website that gave further details about you and your book. (We web browsers are a nosy bunch.) If you don’t have a personal website, you could take this opportunity to link to your book through MHS Press. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, Greg. You could do the same.)

    If you look for them, there are all sorts of online opportunities to get the word out that you are a freelance historian. If you don’t have a website, you can start a blog free through Blogger or WordPress. Then, plaster your link all over your online communications, starting with the signature line of your emails. You can also get involved with online forums, where people appreciate engaging commentary and you can slip in your passion and website info.

    Does your book or your PowerPoint presentation cover anything related to Morrison County?


  8. Deborah Morse-Kahn says:

    Though it might seem to poor Annette that we have moved off her intended topic, Mary Warner’s generous recommendations to Krista actually bring us right back to my own expressed hopes that, across the regions of this state, we find and bring inside the many folks who are doing first-class work in local and regional studies. Mary is right: getting tied in to the considerable number of promotional opportunities out there is not only a blast but also a critical path to sharing the good work you have done with us. My website has become THE info and contact source for folks around the country…and around the world. I try to update it a few times a year but, in truth, it just sits there doing its best for me and I love it for being my face to the world.

    The reverse is also true: the websites of others laboring in the delightful fields of all cultural resource studies–public history, architectural history, landscape history, human geography, anthropology and archaeology, archives and so much more–have become my way of finding others whose work is, as Krista put it well, "under the radar." Yes, it is true that being tied in to an institution or agency can net you opportunities and the money to underwrite those opportunities, but there is much to be said for independence. I have had countless chances over a dozen years to take a permanent position but, in the end, knew that if I wanted to write about ALL of this region, and to speak freely on issues of preservation, restoration and the politics of reuse and planning, I would need to be beholden to only Deborah. I have met many others who also work alone or in small partnerships for that same freedom of movement and expression, and also to remain nimble and to be able to respond quickly to contract opportunities. Some of our best field researchers are very small shops and they generating some of the best reports you will find in the SHPO drawers.

    I have given much thought to Annette’s opening question to us and, knowing I am not a "joiner" and so rarely become a member of this or that organization or group, do know that I have the ability to organize and bring folks together, to create community. David Grabitske affords us that opportunity through the venue of this online conversation, but we can do it collectively outside this venue as well. I have decided that bringing all my connections together from twelve years of regional fieldwork will be the best gift I can give to the effort of the Sesquicentennial…and then to step back…and keep on writing.

    Don’t give up, Krista! You are an Historian, no matter where the income for rent and catfood is coming from. You are an established author and an authority in your field. Because you say, and because you have made your important contributions to our collective state story. Many thanks for that to you from all of us.



  9. Mary Warner says:

    Ping, ping, pop! The thoughts are whizzing through my head after reading your last post, Deborah. I checked out your website – using your name link, of course – and I can see that you have done a considerable amount of work ranging through a variety of topics. Bravo on your accomplishments!

    Practically every day through my work at the Morrison County Historical Society, I am in contact with people doing research who are not affiliated with an organization. Many of them are genealogists and all have an area of expertise that falls outside of my level of knowledge. I am consistently humbled by what I do not know. Organizational affiliation hasn’t got anything to do with this. Getting the word out sure does. (Keep at it, Krista!)

    If the story I heard on NPR yesterday is any indication, we’re going to have to be creative and vigilant in networking among our peers. More people are going the route of Deborah and choosing to work solo or from home. The internet and attendant technology have made this possible, but they will also be critical in allowing us to stay connected. Hence, my question to Annette about whether there is an online forum to collect this networking data.

    In case you missed it, here’s the link to the NPR story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16258233&ampsourceCode=RSS


  10. Krista Finstad Hanson says:

    Hi All

    I just wanted to add a little more to the previous discussion and help get it back on track with Annette’s original posting 🙂

    Thank you all for your previous discussion and input and suggestions. I enjoyed reading what everyone has had to say so far!

    As I had previously mentioned about my book on Minnesota’s historic house museums, I wanted to share an observation I had as I visited nearly all of the 191 musuems in the book (perhaps only David Grabitske and Tim Glines at the MHS Field Services Office have visited quite as many). Each time I visited a museum it struck me how each museum’s exhibits were telling their version of the story of their role in the history of this state from their geographic angle. It occurred to me… do the counties nearby know what artifacts and resources their neighboring museums have? Does "the" MHS know this information? How often are these county historical societies able to connect together, let alone us doing historical research. Some counties have extensive archives and more and more are gaining a web-based presence. Yet some still do not. And of course there are the private museums and smaller groups that may not be connected within the historical society umbrella.

    It seems to me that with the Minnesota 150 we could create a model for sharing of this information. I know the MHS’s Greatest Generation Project is one such model as a way to connect with historians, film makers, and citizens remaning who have memories of this time around World War II. Think of all the shoeboxes full of pictures and medals, uniforms and letters that people of this generation have that remain to be shared. Yet what has been shared to date is so truly amazing!

    It saddens me to think about this history that is out there but isn’t "out there" in the public realm. And the organizer in me gets overwhelmed when I think about the various pieces of the same history that are segmented throughout the state county by county yet no team of reference librarians could ever create enough metadata for all the artifacts and resources out there in 87 counties!

    Perhaps with the Minnesota 150 project- there can be some creation of a clearinghouse of sorts- by topic? by era?

    Previous postings mentioned the wide variety of history available in different special interest groups – knitting history from the knitters….Think of the Sports Historians and the various professional groups within that genre – bowling associations and the like that are publishing books and getting information posted on their websites, and the professional groups such as firemen, police officers who often have their own little collections of artifacts within an old fire station, and the list goes on.

    Yet even big history stories still go without being fully understood due to the lack of cohesiveness amongst those doing the telling. Think of how many counties tell about the Dakota Conflict or the Sioux Uprising, when within MHS it is called the US -Dakota War of 1862, and among ancestors of the Native American tribes affected they call it the Massacre of 1862. We have the MHS Lower Sioux Agency and St. Peter has their Treaty Site and yet so many counties tell parts of this story as well. Clearly this is a "big" example and over the years scholars have tried to "get it right" but my point is that there are likely so many areas of the story yet uncovered and perhaps there are resources that haven’t been accessed yet they are accessible via local and county musuems.

    Anyway.. this is all back to the connection piece. In looking at 150th and thinking about the counties and groups and individuals that may be applying for grants, it seems there is an opportunity to look at who has which resources and artifacts and perhaps this work generated can somehow be connected and collected within and under the umbrella of the MHS, but then perhaps it can be dispersed somehow via the web, so that the web can truly connect and tie us all together as we continue to research and pursue Minnesota’s history, as well as try to get our work out into the world.


    Krista Finstad Hanson


  11. David Grabitske says:

    I see in the Park Rapids Enterprise of December 4 that the Hubbard County Genealogical Society is taking nominations for its list of 150 notable people, places and things. HCGS is doing so in cooperation with the Hubbard County Historical Society. Who all are compiling these lists? Would this be something academic historians would be able to help judge?



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