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Researcher's Notebook weblog

April 30, 2008

Do You Know An Expert?

Filed under: Uncategorized — debbie.miller@mnhs.org @ 1:34 pm

MPR is looking for someone to talk about how states became states at the time Minnesota did, and also how a territory would become a state today. Know someone? Contact Ann P. at the U. (612-626-1877). They want someone quickly.

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April 22, 2008

New Director for NHPRC

Filed under: National Archives — debbie.miller@mnhs.org @ 2:38 pm

Archivist of the United States (and NHPRC Chairman) Allen Weinstein today announced the appointment Kathleen M. Williams as executive director of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Ms. Williams, who has been acting executive director since January 2008, replaces former director Max Evans.

In making the appointment, Professor Weinstein said, “Ms. Williams brings a broad knowledge of the fields of archives and documentary editing to the Commission and its work. I am optimistic that together we will further the work of the NHPRC in preserving, publishing, and making accessible the nation’s historical records.”

Ms. Williams was previously deputy executive director of the NHPRC where she oversaw daily operations and the grant award cycles. She has worked at the NHPRC and the National Archives since 2004. Prior to joining the National Archives, Ms. Williams worked at the Smithsonian Institution where she served for ten years on the staff of the Smithsonian Institution Archives in various supervisory capacities, including its Archives Division Director from 1998-2004. Her career has included work as assistant archivist at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and ten years, from 1984-1994, as archivist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she began the archives program.

While in Houston, she also served as an adjunct instructor in the History Department at the University of Houston.

Ms. Williams holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts) and a Masters Degree in Arts and Cultural Administration from Goucher College (Baltimore, Maryland).

The NHPRC is the grantmaking arm of the National Archives and since 1964 has been supporting projects across the nation to preserve and publish historical records.

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April 15, 2008

Helen White

Filed under: Colleagues — debbie.miller@mnhs.org @ 10:03 am

Helen McCann White, writer, editor, and archivist, died peacefully on April 3, 2008, at home in St. Paul. A memorial gathering will take place at the Taylors Falls Memorial Community Center in the old train depot in Taylors Falls on Sunday, April 20, at 1 PM. Memorials preferred to the Democratic Party and to the Minnesota Historical Society.

During her long and productive life, Helen aimed to show that “the general public would read and support any amount of scholarly historical writing, if it were written in an interesting manner.” She was born in Minneapolis on October 16, 1916, the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth McCann. Her father was a Methodist minister, and she lived in nine small towns in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa during her youth. As a student at Hamline University (1935-39), she worked at the Minnesota Historical Society as an assistant archivist. While attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota, she met Henry Gilbert White; they married in 1941 and had three children, Barbara, Timothy, and Bruce. Gilbert’s work as a resource economist took the family to cities across the U.S. and to Tokyo, Manila, and Paris. During these years, Helen researched, wrote, and taught. They spent many summers in Minnesota, living on the family’s vacation property near Almelund.

In 1965, when the Whites moved back to Minnesota, Helen returned to work at the Minnesota Historical Society. There she pioneered a program of microfilm publication for important manuscript collections; she supervised the Society’s acquisition of the Northern Pacific Railroad papers; she conducted oral history interviews of North Shore fishermen; and she worked on early applications of computers in indexing history.

In 1970, three years after her husband’s death, she left the Society, moved to Taylors Falls, and began publishing The Dalles Visitor, an annual newspaper highlighting the history of the Upper St. Croix Valley. In hundreds of solidly researched, well written articles, she presented the history of these communities to broad audiences of residents and tourists, enriching the lives of many who were surprised to discover how interesting history can be. “People don’t see the connection between their roots and themselves,” White once said. “But when you can relate history to the lives of everyday people, then they begin to understand it, to appreciate it.” The paper is still published by Joanne Frank and well supported by the businesses of the area.

White’s first home in Taylors Falls was the Schottmuller Building. While restoring that building, she hired local craftsmen and artisans to renovate a modest side building, the former Taylors Falls Jail, into the one of Minnesota’s first bed-and-breakfast operations. Described by Minneapolis Tribune columnist Dave Wood as “a lockup worthy of a former Watergate criminal,” the Jail demonstrated that a run-down building of historical merit could become an object of local pride-and contribute to the community’s tax rolls. After living in St. Paul for a few years in the 1990s, she moved back to Taylors Falls to take on the renovation of a nondescript, small, old house on Main Street. Her book about that experience, A Little Yellow House, was published in 2001.

White wrote several other books. Ho! for the Gold Fields, about the expeditions from Minnesota to Montana, won an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. The Tale of a Comet and Other Stories tells the eight stories of fascinating characters and unusual events that she uncovered in unlikely places. Saving the River is a history of the St. Croix River Association. She wrote about Minnesota in the 1830s in Henry Sibley’s First Years at St. Peters or Mendota.

Her work as a community activist brought her into areas of controversy. After learning of the destruction of important early records in the Stillwater courthouse, she lobbied for state legislation to reform the state’s historical records preservation process. She raised the ire of some when she protested the burning of a historic building on Angels Hill.

She served on the State Historic Records Advisory Board from 1976 to 1982. In 1984 White was named Independent Scholar of the Year by the Minnesota Humanities Commission. In 2003 the Chisago County Historical Society recognizes her as Historian of the Year and in 2007 she was honored by the Polk County Historical Society as History Woman of the Year.

She is survived by siblings Phyllis Caine, Rosemary Banta, and Edward McCann; children Barbara Wright, Timothy, and Bruce; and grandchildren Ralph, Richard, and Robert Wright and Edward White.

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