Researcher's Notebook weblog

June 17, 2008

Minnesota History Books for Non-Historians

Filed under: Books — @ 2:34 pm

Ann P. suggested that we create a list of our favorite Minnesota history books that we would recommend to non-historians. To send in suggestions, please use the comments function at the bottom of this posting (on the actual blog).

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  1. I suggest “A Toast to the Fur Trade” which has great illustrations and explains so very much. I have used it with school groups–I made overhead transparencies of the line drawings and did a talk. Teachers can do the same. It’s not expensive and it’s skinny on a bookshelf.

    Is Rhoda Gilman’s “Divided Heart” biography about Henry Sibley suitable for general audiences? I think so. She gives a helpful historic context for the material and her book gives insights into the pre-Territory, Territory, and Statehood periods, as well as Dakota Uprising sequence of events.

    Comment by Linda Louise Bryan — June 19, 2008 @ 5:42 am

  2. I recommmend personal narratives that give a sense what life was like for individuals in the past. I know there are a lot of people who think that non-historians can’t handle original sources, but I disagree emphatically. In fact in many many cases they can handle them a lot better than historical summaries, which put most everyone to sleep, including me.

    George Nelson’s journals, in the edition published by the historical society, My First Years in the Fur Trade, are a great introduction to the history of the fur trade.

    J.G. Kohl’s Kitchi-Gami. An ethnographic travel narrative. A wonderful book.

    Ella Deloria’s Waterlily is a good way to teach about the life of the Lakota. She is Vine Deloria’s aunt and was an anthropologist who did research for Ruth Benedict and others. But she was made impatient by the cut and dried approach of the anthropologist, so she wrote this novel about a young woman in earlier times. It is a great book.

    Comment by BruceWhite — July 30, 2008 @ 10:37 am

  3. I especially second the nomination of the Nelson book. This thing is a wonderful reading experience, although myself I needed to keep a running list of characters in order to remember all the players.

    Best thing about it is the character of teenaged Nelson–although he is assigned a position of authority, he is so young, so impressionable, so arrogant, so inept. He was warned, “Don’t get married, George!” Yet he does, and he is then saddled with a teenaged squad of scheming women thereafter–think of a gaggle of 8th grade girls. The older guys must have had a great time setting him up for practical jokes and dirty tricks. When his fur bales catch fire, it’s poetic justice–no one that goofy should be allowed to succeed.

    I have heard that the employees at NWCo. Fur Post at Pine City read it aloud last year as part of their ongoing inservice learning. They really enjoyed cheering, booing, shouting as the story unfolded. They learned a lot about the fur trade, and the story kept their interest.

    Book has some good editorial aids in the new edition.

    Comment by Linda Louise Bryan — July 31, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

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