Tag Archives: Minnesota History Center

Newspapers + Archives = Access

National Newspaper Week cannot be crammed into just seven days.  The deeper you delve, the more resources come to the surface. National Newspaper Week is also co-terminus and a propitious link with American Archives Month commemorated in October.

During this week we celebrate the symbiotic relationship. Newspapers and archives are links in an information chain on which our search for truth depends.  Newspapers determine and share the stories; archivists assure that the words, the statistics, the opinions are accessible over time.

Though newspapers and archives create and preserve the record it is the skill and commitment of those who do the work of each institution that we honor.  Now, more than ever, our focus is on the information chain as an interconnected whole – even more, we focus on the evolving and expanding role of journalists and archivists who work in tandem to facilitate the free flow of information and ideas that fuel this democracy.

To underscore the collaborative role of these institutions, on Day #7 of National Newspaper Week and as we look ahead to National Archives Month the focus is on newspaper archives.

Clearly, the digital age has transformed the process of archiving of newspapers.  As a result, strategies are in flux; at times there is duplication; at other times there are gaps. The challenge for professionals and the public is to remain positive and persistent.  Above all, information seekers need to know that the intellectual process of preserving the record and making it accessible is a human endeavor. Archivists, librarians, scholars, and others are on hand or online to guide the individual search.

Some starting point for searching newspapers – Please note that these are starting points only – guides to other resources


MN Historical Society Newspaper Hub – the starting point which will identify and link to relevant files: http://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/hub



Minnesota Newspaper Directory:  http://mnnews.com/index.php/mn-newspaper-websites/

Minnesota Newspaper Association. (mna.org)  Membership organization that maintains listing for member organizations http://mna.org/newspaper-directory/

Listing of local newspapers (incomplete) https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&tbm=lcl&q=newspapers+minnesota+local&oq=newspapers+minnesota+local&gs_l=psy-ab.12…….0…1..64.psy-ab..0.0.0….0.ujHrTkXHq8c#rlfi=hd:;si:;mv:!1m3!1d1055050.836006896!2d-94.0380186!3d44.591910049999996!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i635!2i557!4f13.1;tbs:lrf:!2m1!1e2!2m1!1e3!3sIAE,lf:1,lf_ui:1


National Digital Newspaper Program
A partnership between the Library & the National Endowment for the Humanities


University of Minnesota Libraries – Archives http://archives.lib.umn.edu/search utf8=&op%5B%5D=&q%5B%5D=minnesota+newspapers&limit=&field%5B%5D=&from_year%5B%5D=&to_year%5B%5D=&commit=Search


http://www.onlinenewspapers.com – international

https://www.thenews.com.pk  –   International

https://elephind.com –   historic digitized newspaper archives













Autumn Options #IV

Though we haven’t got down to the “precious few” yet, the days are visibly dwindling down.   We need to choose with care from the lure of learning options that wrap up the summer – and prime the mental pump for what’s to come.  Just a few of the opportunities waiting to be explored:

September 23 – April 22, 2018. Renewing What They Gave Us.  On exhibit now at the Minnesota History Center are the fruits of labor of participants in the Native American Artists-in-Residents program.  The exhibit includes beadwork, birch bark and textile artworks by five contemporary American Indian artists including Jessica Gokey, Pat Kruse, Denise Lajimodiere, Gwen Westerman and Holly Young.  Details here: http://www.minnesotahistorycenter.org/exhibits/renewing-what-they-gave-us

September 27-October 1.  Twin Cities Arab Film Festival. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/festival-director-shares-stories-of-twin-cities-arab-film-festival-2017/.  Even if you can’t make it to the Film Festival, take time to view the delightfully informative interview with Mizna staffer Michelle Baroody who is responsible for All Things Film Festival.  The link to that interview is embedded on the earlier post. UPDATED SCHEDULE: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/15ebe301851de3d9

September 28, 7:00 PM –  Peter Breen of The Bolt Weevils will host an open mic and Tom Kingstrom will play a featured set at Eat My Words, 215 13th Avenue NE in Participants will have a max 10 minutes of stage time. (note new location)  http://www.eatmywordsbooks.com/events/2017/9/28/eat-my-words-open-mic

September 28, 7:30 PM and October 1, 2:30 PM – Elision Theater’s production of Goblin Market by Polly Pen and Peggy Harman.  The performance, a musical adaptation of Christina Rossetti’s 1859 narrative poem, features the artwork of Omar Rayyan. To further explore the connections between the musical, the original poem, and the historical contact, the October 1 matinee will include a discussion facilitated by Andrew Elfenbein, Chair of the U of M English Department.  Crane Theater, 2303 Kennedy St NE, Minneapolis  https://www.facebook.com/TheatreElision/?fref=mentions

Much happening during coming weeks at East Side Freedom Library: 

  • September 28, 7:00 PM – Closing event in the Women from the Center Series: A harvest reading by Native Writers including Diane Wilson (host) with Colleen Casey, Pauline Danforth, Ruth Denny, Rosie Peters, Tayah Reyes, and Kim Wensaut. An opening song provided by the Asiginaag Singers with music by JG Everest.  Free and open. info@eastsidefreedomlibrary.org or 651 230 3294.
  • September 30, 1:00–4:00 PM “Against Labor: A book discussion with the authors of a new collection.” Participants include David Roediger, Elizabeth Esch, Chad Pearson, Tom Klub, Rosemary Feurer, and Peter Rachleff.

September 29-30 – Don’t miss this rare and wonderful opportunity to Illuminate the Locks.  Once again the 49-foot tall chamber of Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam will be “re-purposed” – now as a canvas for an experiment in art.  Andrea Carlson’s creative work, entitled “The Uncompromising Hand” is a hand-crafted animation based on six photographs of the island during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  The artwork will be accompanied by text in Dakota and Ojibwe.  http://parkconnection.org/event/illuminate-lock-uncompromising-hand/

The Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA), an ever-simmering cauldron of ideas and energy, whets your learning appetite with these options. Check out the NEMAA website to get seriously informed – and engaged. https://nemaa.org/events

  • October 5 – Overcoming Writer’s Block and Growing from Criticism
  • October 21-22 – Ever tried a rigid heddle? Design your own project at this intriguing workshop

October 14 – Grand Reopening of the Water Bar.  Check out this earlier post. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=4157&action

AMVETS Post #5: Photographs by Xavier Tavera. Now on exhibit at the Minnesota History Center the powerful exhibit features color portraits that document the lives of Mexican and Mexican-American military veterans who now live on St Paul’s West Side. The photographs represent the artistry of Xavier Tavera who was born in Mexico City and has lived in the Twin Cities for the past two decades. http://www.minnesoahistorycenter.org/exhibits/amvets-post-5




ADA at 26: The celebration – and the challenge – continue

I don’t need easy. I need possible. ~ Bethany Hamilton

It was just a year ago we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s time to rekindle and repeat the celebratory spirit – and to remember that the movement for inclusion and equality is not a sprint but a marathon. (https://www.minnpost.com/minnesota-blog-cabin/2015/04/celebrating-impact-ada-embracing-challenges-remain) Happily, the disabilities community is joining forces again this year to recharge us all

“Celebrating Diversity in Our Community” is a grand public event set for Tuesday, July 26, at the Minnesota History Center, 345 West Kellogg in St. Paul. The celebration begins at 3:00 with a keynote address by Ken Rodgers, Chair of the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities.

Beginning at 6:30 the focus is on fun! That fun includes a chance to get to know Angelique Leie, 2015 Miss Wheelchair Minnesota and to enjoy the artistry of members of the Young Dance Company. Then enjoy an evening featuring the classic rock & roll music of Tamarak.

Learn more about the very talented Angelique Leie and about the Miss Wheelchair Minnesota program here: http://blog.easystand.com/2015/04/ms-wheelchair-minnesota-2015-pageant/

Get to know the unique Young Dance Company here. http://www.youngdance.org/company-overview

Learn and listen to Tamarak here: http://www.tamarak.iwarp.com)

Accommodations for the evening include ASL interpreters, audio description and CART – and food will be available for purchase. The event itself is free and open to all.



Northern Lights & Insights: Conversations Come Alive as Videotaped Interviews Go Digital

Obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it’s just the beginning.

The words of Marshall McLuhan, guru of an earlier time, came to mind when I learned that Northern Lights and Insights, a library of videos produced in an earlier time, has been added to Minnesota Reflections, the Minnesota Digital Library collection. http://reflections.mndigital.org/cdm/search/collection/p16022coll38

Conversations with Minnesota writers, political leaders, publishers, athletes, activists and more are now accessible to researchers, readers, students and Minnesotans who just want to know more about their heritage. There are interviews with Bill Holm, Carol Bly, with Evelyn Fairbanks, resident historian of the Rondo neighborhood, and with Genny Zak Kieley, chronicler of all things Northeast Minneapolis. Patrick Coleman chats with Governor Elmer L. Andersen while Freya and Frederick Manfred interview each other. Jon Hassler enjoys a lively exchange with J.F. Powers. Preserved in digital format are conversations with Will Weaver, Kay Sexton, Julie Schumacher, William Kent Krueger, Anne Bancroft and Eugene McCarthy – plus dozens of other Minnesotans of today and yesterday.

The saga of Northern Lights and Insights is long and occasionally bumpy, marked by changes in technology and provenance of the project. Begun by cable advocate and pioneer Dave Carlson, then on staff at Hennepin County Library, NL was originally taped in the well-equipped studios of the HCL; tapes were distributed and cablecast on local systems throughout the County and on the Metro Cable Network, the regional system carried on all metro area cable systems.

When HCL discontinued cable production, NL was adopted by Metronet/Minnesota Center for the Book where Dave Carlson joined the staff and continued to produce episodes into the early 21st Century.   Lacking production facilities, Dave and his equipment went on location, met interviewees in their homes or offices, or found a quiet after-hours interlude to record in the Metronet office. In the late 1990’s the Legislature funded a program to distribute videotapes of selected interviews through the state’s regional public library systems.

Enter the digital age… Video formats were rendered obsolete, production and playback equipment languished, and Northern Lights video interviews were yesterday’s news.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota History Center retained its archival collection of the irreplaceable tapes. Tapes were cataloged, annotated and made accessible to users who still had video equipment in working order… It is the tapes from the Minnesota History Center collection that have now been digitized and made accessible through the Minnesota Digital Library.  

And it is through the diligence and generosity of a committed chain of willing interviewees and interviewers, producers, sponsors, funders and archivists that the taped conversations have stood the test of time.

Thought for a perfect winter afternoon:  Reserve time to browse the collection from the comfort of a favorite armchair, read the annotations, remember the personalities of the interviewers and the interviewees and the accomplishments of both. Slow down to appreciate the legacy captured in the conversations.  Then select one or two of the interviews, sit back, click on the “view” icon, remember, reflect and make a plan to read or  re-read the work of a favorite writer.



Historians Make History as They Gather in St. Paul

Though history’s always in the making in St. Paul the saintly city is more than ever abuzz this week with curators, archivists, preservation and conservation experts, scholars, digitizers, funders and dedicated historians of every stripe.   It’s impossible to categorize, much less describe, the thousand-plus committed attendees at the annual conference of the American Association for State and Local History meeting this week at the Crowne Plaza on the banks of the Mississippi (if you don’t count the Kellogg Boulevard speedway….)

“Greater than the Sum of Our Parts” is the intriguing theme of the conference. A few hours in the exhibits gives meaning to the phrase – the exhibitors reflect the diverse and interdependent functions that comprise the complex world of these stewards of the narrative of the nation’s towns, states and regions. The robust agenda includes programs and tours on corporate history, museums, archives, court and legal history, classrooms, interpretive centers, historic homes, military history, religious history and more.

The keynote speakers for the conference suggest the diversity of the themes and participants — Garrison Keillor keynoted today followed tomorrow by Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO of Carlson and more.   Speaker at Friday’s awards banquet is Dr. Anton Treuer, Executive Director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University and editor of the Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal of the Ojibwe language.

There are tours and more tours – of St. Paul’s brewing history “from Pig’s Eye to Summit”, a farm tour of the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life and the Oliver Kelley farm, tours of the mighty Mississippi, the Alexander Ramsey House, several farmers’ markets and corporate museums. And there are sessions on services for people with disabilities and one session that caught my eye, a discussion entitled “Memories Matter: Our Historic Resources to Help Those with Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases.”

The exhibits range from high tech digital archives to art conservationists determined to preserve art and objects as “primary sources”, reflected but not replaced be digital reproductions (or paint-by-number replications) of the original.

Squadrons of Minnesota museum mavens, clad in sky blue water t-shirts, are everywhere welcoming the visitors, pointing out the area’s sites and eateries, telling the stories, and having the strength to get up and do what needs to be done to guarantee that the 2014 American Association for State and Local History will go down in history!






Hail American Archivists – October is American Archives Month

Over the last few millennia we’ve invented a series of technologies – from the alphabet to the scroll to the codex, the printing press, photography, the computer, the smartphone – that have made it progressively easier and easier for us to externalize our memories, for us to essentially outsource this fundamental human capacity.                                                    Joshua Foer

 October 2013 is American Archives Month – a time to take note that Minnesota is “The Land of (nearly) 10,000 Archives.”   In case you haven’t visited your county historical society, public, government agency, corporate headquarters or university library, gallery or other citadel of learning lately, you might be surprised what’s happening behind the scenes in archives.   In countless institutions and communities archives are facing the challenges of the digital age.

In this information age, everyone expects to find information at the click of key.  Whether genealogical research, stories of the town or neighborhood’s history, the accomplishments of state leaders, business mergers or house history, we want to know what’s gone before.   The urge to dip into history, to build on what’s gone before, to understand our roots, is great.  The more we catch a glimpse the more we find ourselves lost in the pursuit of more information, stories, pictures, data, graphics, audio and visual recordings – our thirst for information is never quenched.

What’s often lost is recognition of what goes into the process of making that wealth of information accessible.  Because we see the technology on the output end of the information chain we credit the app, as if an inert tool can magically locate the needed crumb of information, then present it in living color on a hand-held device.

In fact, it is the unstinting work of archivists who, from the beginning of time, have identified, preserved, and organized the record of human kind, regardless of format, assuming that their meticulous efforts will bear fruit some day in the future.

What’s happening today is that, even as they continue their traditional role, archivists are meeting unprecedented challenges, including these:

Expectations – The challenge to archivists is to establish standards then design and introduce appropriate technologies to digitize and organize materials so that the record itself reaches the user at the moment of need.

Format – Information comes in an ever-expanding range of formats that require new standards and procedures for storage and portability, organizing principles and massive examination of archival basics.

Security/privacy – As everyone must know by now, when information is ubiquitous and the flow of data is fluid, it’s a new world for archivists.  Ask NSA.

Ownership – Information has become a commodity with economic value.  Archivists face unparalleled issues that have major implications for who owns what, who pays for and who gains from value added to raw information.  Access issues are particularly problematic for archivists whose purview is information that is classified as “public.”

Outreach – The work of archivists of no value unless and until the information they identify, organize and preserve is put to use.  Increasingly, the public wants to know how to get the records they know, or suspect, are out there somewhere.  [ One example that piques the imagination is the recent release of thousands of FBI files, files that divulge buckets of delicious tidbits collected by the zealous FBI on issues and individuals ranging from Hollywood stars to war protesters to college professors.  Somewhere someone had to decide how or if to inform the voyeuristic public of the release and the points of access.]

The Midwest Archives Conference met this past week in Green Bay.  A quick scan of the agenda for that meeting offers some ideas on what’s on the minds of archivists in September 2013.   These are the conference sessions:  User-centered design; Website analysis on a budget; Designing for hand-held devices; Crowd-source transcription; Leveraging Wikipedia; Using Omeka for web-based exhibit; Scan-on-demand reference and research services.

For another glimpse of today’s archives, check the October 25 meeting of the Twin Cities Archives Round Table (http://tcartmn.org/2013/09/23/twin-cities-archives-round-table-fall-meeting-2/) Archivists from a wide range of institutional settings will be meeting at the Red Wing Shoe Company (yes, corporations are important pillars of the archives community).   Archives of every stripe will share their combined skills and experience to assure that the record of each institution is preserved and made accessible to users, whether corporate, academic or the public at large.

Celebrate American Archives Month by taking a few minutes to view some starting points – this is a quick list of a very few of the state’s archives – don’t stop here!




Armchair Access to Minnesota’s Past

Members of the Minnesota Legislature will be back in their districts this week.  If you have a chance you might want to ask your member just which Minnesota Constitution they propose to revise this session.  There are two, you know.

The mystery of Minnesota’s two Constitutions is just one historical quirk told in digital format on podcasts produced and posted by the Minnesota Historical Society.  There is a library of podcasts and slideshows within arm’s reach of history buffs and Minnesotans with a mere scintilla of curiosity about their state’s history.

To unravel the curious facts about the two Constitutions, click here.    Are you curious about government interference in citizens’ morality?  Check The Road to Prohibition podcast.  If you’re more interested in corporate Minnesota  you’ll enjoy learning about How Minnesota Changed Breakfast or Don’t Say Underwear, Say Munsingwear.

There’s something for everyone.  Click here for a digital Introduction to the MHS podcast collection.  Then settle back in your favorite armchair and plan to spend way too much time engrossed in the podcasts and the paths they’ll lead you into the riches of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Ideas Abound for Celebrating Women’s History Month 2013 – and Beyond

The time is right to get organized for Women’s History Month – 2014.  The wealth of materials available – and the great ideas ready for WHM 2013, are truly overwhelming and exciting..  With absolutely no pretense of offering a comprehensive calendar of events, here are a few random samples of what’s going on in Minnesota.  With apologies for all the great projects overlooked, here’s a potpourri of ideas in place for this year’s observance:

  • March 6 – Women’s History Month Recital, Winona State University Performance Arts Center Recital Hall.  Songs and instrumental pieces by women composers from the 17th through the 20th centuries – 12:00 p.m.  Free.
  • March 7 – Dakota Women: Keepers of the Village, 7:00 p.m. Ramsey County Library-Roseville.  Free.
  • March 8 – Mary Colter, Pioneering Minnesota Architect, presented by Diane Trout-Oertel, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Landmark Center, Room 430. Free.
  • March 8 – The Austin MN AAUW will announce the winners of the Women’s History essay contest sponsored by AAUW and Austin High School.
  • March 9 – The Minnesota Historical Society will offer a special tour of the State Capitol.  Focus will be on the role of Minnesota women involved in the suffrage movement, particularly at the state level.  11:00-1:00.  Various fees.
  • March 10, Ethel Stewart, Ramsey County Historical Society Founder, presented by Steve Trimble, 1:00-2:00 p.m., Landmark Center, Room 320.  Free.
  • March 14 & 15 – Women’s History Month: The Historical Comedybration.  Bryant Lake Bowl,, 7:00 p.m.  $12 day of show, $10 in advance.
  • March 17 – Women United to Win – annual women’s appreciation event focused on ending domestic violence (focus of International Women’s Day 2013)
  • March 19 – Quilting for the Cause – Ramsey County Library, New Brighton, 6:30 p.m. Free.
  • March 21 – Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam, 7:00 p.m. Ramsey County Library Roseville.  Free.
  • March 22, Mary Hill, Family Matriarch, presented by Eileen McCormack, 10:00-11:00 a.m, Landmark Center, Room 320
  • March 23, Women of Mill City, Mill City Museum.  Portrayers of Ann Pillsbury, Mary Dodge Woodward, Eva McDonald Valesh and Gratia Countryman. 1:00-4:00.  Various prices, associated programming.

Armchair Options:

  • KUMD at the University of Minnesota-Duluth is working on yet another series of daily tributes to women who have made Minnesota history.   Keep up with this amazing series by clicking here.
  • The Minnesota Department of Human Rights produces and maintains a resource about human rights events and people – a great resources f or this month.  Snippets of stories and pictures of events and individuals including such Minnesota heroines as Nellie Stone Johnson, Clara Ueland, Martha Ripley and Rosalie Wahl.
  • The National Park Service will take you inside a stately mansion you’ve driven by a hundred times, the Elizabeth C. Quinlan House at 1711 Emerson Avenue South in the Lowry Hill Neighborhood of South Minneapolis.
  • See what the librarians at the New York Public Library have pulled from the print and digital stacks of that vast resource.
  • Gather a group of virtual or on-site friends to test your knowledge of women’s history with the Women’s History Month Quiz created by Margaret Zierdt, National Women’s History Project Board member.

In sum, the point is to look for programs, books to read, speakers, media productions live or streamed that share the stories of women who have made a difference.  And start thinking about how to observe Minnesota Women’s Month next year.  Time is fleeting and the stories are everywhere.

Minnesotans Reflect on the US-Dakota War of 1862

The Indians wanted to live as they did before the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux – go where they pleased…hunt game wherever they could find it, sell their furs to the traders and live as they could.  Big Eagle, Mdewankanton, 1894.

 When I was very young we would visit the farm in McLeod County where my mother grew up. There was a marker in the field and a mystery about the place.  It was said that this was where Little Crow fought and died – I have wondered but never really wanted to know the truth. 

Later, for a decade, I worked in a library that literally overlooked the spot in Mankato where the 38 Dakota Indians were hanged in 1862.  Again, I retreated from learning more than the minimum.  I never even paused in my hundreds of trips along Highway 169 to visit the Treaty Site History Center at Traverse des Sioux near St. Peter.

In a word, I have always resisted knowing the truth about the US-Dakota War of 1862.  The truth was too painful, too much.

The Minnesota Historical Society makes me face the facts – at a pace and in myriad ways that force me to make an effort to internalize the reality of what happened 150 years ago and to comprehend the ways in which the US-Dakota War of 1862 shaped the world in which we live.

The hallmark of the MHS exploration of our history is the multi-dimensional art exhibit that opened June 30 at the Minnesota History Center.  The exhibit grapples with the conflicting interpretations of events and encourages visitors to “review the evidence and determine for themselves what happened and why.” 

And there are special programs coming up soon that offer opportunities to further explore the facts and the stories.  The first is July 18, 7:00 p.m. at the Minnesota History Center.  The free program is an introduction to the US-Dakota War and its impact on the making of Minnesota.  Mary Lethert Wingerd, author of North Country: The Making of Minnesota, will participate in that discussion.

This is followed the next week by a program entitled “We Are Still Here: Minnesota is a Dakota Place.”  This free program is July 25, 7:00 p.m. also at the Minnesota History Center.  Gwen Westerman, Dakota artist, poet and scholar, will share her perspectives on the modern Dakota people and their place in Minnesota’s history and culture.

Other free and open public programs at the Minnesota History Center follow in coming months.  There will be a Dakota Family History Class on September 11 and a Dakota Family Day on September 29.

The learning opportunities virtually flow forth from the generous Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota History Center.  The travel guide to Minnesota sites related to the Dakota War is an itinerant learner’s treasure trove.  Even the homebound can vicariously experience the reality of the War and the devastated people who were – and are – affected.  Every Minnesota has an opportunity and a challenge to physically or mentally travel the land where people lived and died, where the war itself caused such pain. 

Mobile guide in hand, visitors have entrée to and descriptive information to stop at learning resources ranging from the Historic Fort Snelling to Traverse des Sioux near St. Peter to the Birch Coulee Battlefield near Morton to the Harkin Store in New Ulm to the Lower Sioux Agency near Redwood Falls and Fort Ridgely State Park near Fairfax..

And then there are the virtual learning opportunities. The wealth of print, audio and video digital resources gives the armchair learner the facts and stories – and time to think about the implications. 

The Minnesota History Center is the principal among countless Minnesota initiatives to help us all understand – or at least think about  – the US-Dakota War of 1862.  The website in particular is a guide to the myriad initiatives that abound in organizations, communities, colleges and libraries, museums and more.

Discover the magnificent Minnesota History Center in real time and place at 345 Kellogg Boulevard in St. Paul, just across from the State Capitol where the 19th Century saga continues.  Or explore the institution’s virtual presence on the Minnesota History Center website, on Facebook or on Twitter. Or call 651 259 3000 for more information about the US-Dakota War of 1862.



Reflections on the “1968” Exhibit

The Minnesota History Center’s blockbuster “1968” exhibit has definitely got  museum visitors talking – during and after the exhibit.   Having made but one pilgrimage to the MHC for the exhibit I have been mulling it over in the aftermath of what I do hope is the first of several visits during the month to come.

Reflecting on my MLK Day visit evokes vivid images not so much of the exhibit but as the visitors.  First there were the young folks (because it was MLK Day the audience was skewed to the school-age crowd.)  The boys were exploding with military adrenalin at the very sight of the helicopter (which I found almost unbearable);  I heard in-depth discussions of the relative effectiveness of grenades vs. rifles – the kill-power was of great concern to a couple of pre-teens in particular.  The little girls  seemed more concerned with their own 2012-era  finery  and the blaring music from ancient times than with the subtleties of feminism.

And then there were the moms and dads – “That was five years  before Mommy was born…”  was the sort of phrase I heard repeatedly.  These were good parents, trying to expose their kids to history they themselves had learned about from stories their elders passed down or from documentaries.  They knew the big names (Humphrey, the Beatles, RFK) and many had a dad or granddad who had served in the Nam.

It was the grandparents I watched with the keenest interest.  They were quiet, reflective, remembering.   Me, too.  I was remembering where I was, with whom, what I was wearing during the protests, the day MLK died, the torturous Dem Convention  in Chicago, the Children’s Crusade led by McCarthy.  I remembered the music, the clothes, the funeral of MLK (which I listened to time after time.)

The memories and reflective spirit have been with me since.  I’ve talked with friends about our reactions.  Underwhelmed, we said to each other.  We were there.   We know what it was like.   We had friends and family members in Vietnam.  We marched for civil rights and against the war.  For my part I was working at a predominantly African American college  in inner-city Washington, DC throughout that tumultuous year so life in a burning city is etched permanently in my living memory, along with the strident voices of “women’s lib” before it had a clear thrust, much less a handle.

The MHC exhibit is captivating, informative and a fine tip of the historic iceberg it represents.  This is a good thing for Minnesotans of every age.

Still, what chaffs for those some of us who were submerged in all that – the war, the riots, the murder, the music — is that we have been “museum-ized.”  We are not the observers but the subject of the exhibit.  We want to shout out, to inform the visitor’s experience with our own perceptions and experiences.

When I mentioned this concept of museumization to a group, one friend was quick to recollect a visit that he and his wife had made to a history of technology exhibit.  They were early computer geeks, when computers were behemoth and geeks had not yet become a career option.  After viewing the punch cards and IBM 360 machines behind glass enclosures these early adapters concluded that they should be behind glass as part of the exhibit – museumized in real time.

We expect museums to explore and expose remote relics of the past to those of us who are living and learning from a position of power built on the progress of humankind and on our power to shape the story.   It’s a different and uncomfortable experience to find oneself as the subject memorialized on film or photo or bit of realia.   The universal response seems to be an irresistible urge to correct, or at least augment, the story.

This bit of introspection is helping me understand with newfound clarity the response American Indians have to the depiction and interpretation of their role in Minnesota history.  Though this was not the intent of 1968,  for me it’s a healthy byproduct of a memorable museum experience.

Museumization  is not easy for a person or for a people.