The very term “archives” conjures images of dust and decay accompanied by acrid aromas and tended by bespectacled history geeks. All wrong. And anyone who has ever explored family or house history, faced a legal dilemma, or wondered about local lore has had a brush with paper, digital or other archives.
October is American Archives Month, a season to be celebrated by the most tempero-centric – a time to think for a minute that those preserved photos, clippings, stories, public records and more didn’t just happen but have been collected, organized, preserved and made accessible through the deliberate and committed work of individuals and the commitment of institutions.
At the time of the Minnesota Sesquicentennial I skimmed the state’s archival surface to compile a random list of irresistible lures to the world of archives. Over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit – and was amazed to find it posted (sans attribution) on the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information website. I have not checked to see if the original was edited by that group.
For some time I have wanted to share this listing and concluded that American Archives Month 2011 might be a propitious opportunity to resurface the whimsical list, slightly pruned and otherwise modified – not significantly updated because the month is just too short for a serious revision.
Many of the materials and descriptions here are accessible online; the print listings suggest a link to digital options. Because the digital resources offer an absolute minimum of the preserved record, we need and always will need multiple access options. Though digitization is growing at an exponential rate, its main contribution is to lure the armchair searcher into a passion to know more and to make the minimal effort to learn more.
This random list is absolutely arbitrary and whim-biased with links to minute bits of Minnesota history. Each of these guides, descriptions, stories was prepared by a Minnesotan, an organization or a state agency that cared enough about the state’s stories to collect, preserve, organize or otherwise help create the legacy. Not everything is digitized or on the web – websites are just the most accessible right now. These sites exemplify the ways in which Minnesotans have used the public records to plumb the depths of their particular interest or passion or legal encounter.
Tending to the record of Minnesota is a collective responsibility and a public trust. It takes personal conviction, time, talent and public support. Without these and hundreds of thousands of other records, carefully organized and preserved, the Sesquicentennial would signify the passage of time rather than the values, the experience, the public record, and the recognition that access to information is at the very core of the democracy we share. The challenge of today is to embrace that principle so that 21st technology enhances access to the building blocks and expands the embrace of this diverse, informed and sharing culture.
The disorganization is absolutely arbitrary – draw no conclusions. The omissions are legion. Though a comprehensive and authoritative list would be a wonderful tool, the universe of possibilities is well nigh infinite and digitization is having a daily and profound impact on the possibilities.
Pick a topic, probe a bit, and pause to think a bit about why and how we preserve the data and the stories of our state. Some places to start, bearing in mind that each of these tools reflects the commitment and labor, past and continuing, of an archivist and, in many cases, an institution:
Minnesota Archives, Minnesota Historical Society – MHS, along with several state agencies, is taking a lead at the national level in preserving the state’s own information digital resources. It’s a monumental undertaking that does Minnesotans proud! The depth of resources and the collaborative efforts of state agencies deserve an American Archives Month commendation.
Minnesota Reflections, an overwhelming and growing collection of documents, photographs, maps, letters and more that tell the state’s story – a great starting point for any age.
James K. Hosmer Special Collections, Hennepin County Library – actually a collection of collections on topics ranging from Minneapolis history to club files to World War II and Abolition. Much is digitized but, as always, that is but the tip of the iceberg – a tip worth checking out however.
Minnesota Place Names; a geographical encyclopedia, by Warren Upham. A classic, originally published in 1920 and now available on line through the Minnesota Historical Society. Overflowing with wonderful stories.
West Bank Boogie. If you were around in the 60’s and 70’s you’ll be reminded – if not, see what you missed! Cyn Collins is the collector and storyteller.
Holland, Maurice, Architects of Aviation, 1951. William Bushnell Stout 1880-1956. One man’s determination to record the stories of our aviation history.
A knack for knowing things: Stories from St. Paul neighborhoods and beyond, by Don Boxmeyer. BiblioVault.
The Cuyuna iron range – Geology and Minerology, by Peter McSwiggen and Jane Cleland.
Ron Edwards, The Minneapolis Story Through My Eyes: A Renaissance Black Man in a White Man’s World. Continued by a bi-weekly column from The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and a TV show on Channel 17.
Center for International Education (The CIE) – a self-proclaimed “media arts micro-organization” the goal of which is to “make poetic media with people of all ages from all over the world.” Videos including interviews with Robert Bly, Tom McGrath, Jim Northrup, Frederick Manfred and documentaries on Eugene McCarthy, Paul Wellstone, Robert Bly, and much more. The world of Media Mike Hazard.
Alexander G. Huggins Diary and Huggins Family Photographs, Collections Up Close. This is just one of numerous podcasts and blogs describing in depth the individual collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Re-live the day-to-day travels of this mission family in Minnesota 1830-1860. Just a sample of the podcast/blogs from MHS.
Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository – built as part of the settlement with Philip Morris, Inc. et al. 26 million pages of documents.
Frances Densmore Prolific writer and chronicler of the cultures of the Dakota and Ojibwe and other Native American Tribes. Densmore also recorded over 2,000 wax cylinders of Native music.
The Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies, University of Minnesota Libraries.
Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Collection. The largest non-seminary Bible collection in the Upper Midwest. Donald J. Pearce, Curator.
Rhoda Gilman, historian extraordinaire, The Story of Minnesota’s Past, just one of several books by Gilman. “The Dakota War and the State Sesquicentennial” is a more current blog representing her ongoing contributions to preserve and elucidate Minnesota’s story. Google Rhoda Gilman for more glimpses of her writings over the past several decades.
Evans, Rachel. Tribal College Librarians Build Map Database, Library of Congress Info Bulletin, Oct. 2002
The Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries.
Perfect Porridge. A good compilation of the TC’s Electropunk scene and lots of information about what’s happening on the broadly-defined media scene.
Saint Paul Police Historical Society, Saint Paul Police Oral History Project. One man’s (Timothy Robert Bradley’s) passion shared with the public.
William Watts Folwell, Though Folwell was best known as the first President of the University of Minnesota from 1868-1884 he moved on from that post to serve as professor of political science and continued as University Library until 1907. The Folwell family papers, 1898-1944, can be found in the U of M Archives.
This Sister Rocks! Thirty years ago Joan Kain, CSJ wrote a small book Rocky Roots: Three Geology Walking Tours of Downtown St. Paul. The book, which resurfaced during the 2006 International Rock Symposium, is now being edited for reissue by the Ramsey County Historical Society.
Lowertown, a project of the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, interviews artists who live, work and exhibit in Lowertown St. Paul. The website also provides links to the websites of the individual arts. A rich celebration and close-up view of this area’s art community.
Park Genealogical Books are this community’s specialists in genealogy and local history for Minnesota and the surrounding area. Their list of publication includes how-to’s on genealogy, research hints and unique assists for anyone working on Minnesota genealogy, records and archives. The life’s work of Mary Bakeman.
Fort Snelling Upper Post is a labor of love on the part of Todd Hintz. Todd offers an historical timeline, a description of the current situation, wonderful photos by Mark Gustafson and an intro to related resources. Great for anyone who cares of preservation of Fort Snelling.
Minnesota Historical Society, Oral History Collection. Pioneers of the Medical Device Industry in Minnesota. A sample of the rich oral history collection of the MHS.
Scott County Historical Society, Stans Museum. Minnesota Greatest Generation Scott County Oral History Project.
Haunted Places in Minnesota. Scores of deliciously spooky sites you’ve probably visited – but never will again – without trepidation.
Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi. Postcards and lots of memorabilia that tell the story of the river.
Special Libraries Association. MN SLA: Early Chapter History (1943-1957)
Land Management Information Center – zillions of maps and mountains of data, plus people to help.
Minnesota Legislature, Geographic Information Services – maps of legislative and congressional districts, election results, school districts and much more.
Minnesota State University, Moorhead, Library. Maps and Atlases – great guide to government produced maps and atlases
Minnesota Public Records Directory. A commercial listing of Minnesota’s public records sources.
Minnesota Senate Media Coverage – live and archive coverage of Senate floor sessions, committee hearings, press conferences and special events.
Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes – statutes, indexes, rules, drafting manuals and more.
Minnesota State Law Library, Minnesota Legal Periodical Index. A practical guide prepared by the state’s law librarians.
Minnesota Historical Society Press, Minnesota History. Quarterly publication featuring original researched articles, illustrations, photographs and other treasures from the MHS.
The Civil War Archive – more than you ever needed to know about the Union Regiment in Minnesota.
George, Erin. Delving deeper: Resources in U’s Borchert Map Library, Continuum 2007-08. description of the massive resources of the U of M’s Borchert Library.
Shapiro, Linda. Art History Goes Digital.. Description of the digitizing initiatives of the University of Minnesota’s collections.
Drawing: Seven Curatorial Responses. Katherine E. Nash Gallery. Curators’ perspectives on the challenge of organizing and make accessible this one art format.
The Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums. A forum for peer assistance among over fifty county, city and other local historical societies.
Minnesota Historical Society Collections Up Close. Beautifully illustrated podcasts about what’s new at the MHS. Regularly updated.
The Tell G. Dahllof Collection of Swedish Americans, University of Minnesota Libraries. The collection encompasses American history seen from a Swedish perspective, the history of Swedish emigration to America, Swedish culture in America, and general descriptions by Swedish travelers to America.
University of Minnesota Media History Project, promoting media history “from petroglyphs to pixels.”
Ten Years of Sculpture and Monument Conservation on the Minnesota State Capitol Mall, compiled by Paul S. Storch, Daniels Objects Conservation Laboratory, Minnesota Historical Society. Just one of dozens of similar conservation studies you’ll find at this site.
Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records. Live access to federal land conveyance records for the public land states. Image access to more than three million federal land title records for Eastern public land states issued between 1820 and 1908. Much more!
Minnesota History Topics, a list of Minnesota-related topics to get you thinking about exploring Minnesota history.
Minnesota Government, an excellent guide to state government information sources compiled by the Saint Paul Public Library.
Minnesota History Quarterly. Publication of the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Available as subscription or with membership. This one sample will give you the flavor, but there are lots more where this came from!
Revisor’s Office Duties – publications duties. The Office of the Revisor of States covers many bases, particularly during the legislative session. This list of publications offers a good overview of the Revisor’s domain.
New!! Library Search, now in beta test phase. A web interface for locating print (including articles), databases, indexes, electronic, and media items. Try it out and offer your unique feedback!
Geographic Information Services, State of Minnesota. Includes scores of interactive maps of population, election results, school districts, legislative districts and more.
Children’s Literature Research Collections (Kerlan Collection), University of Minnesota Libraries, Special Collection. A unique and inspiring collection of books, illustrations, manuscripts, notes and other records of children’s writers and illustrators. The Kerlan also offers a robust series of presentations by children’s authors, writers and critics.
Family History Centers in Minnesota. One small component of the massive resources of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints.
Historic Museums in Minnesota. Prepared by the Victorian Preservation of Santa Clara Valley. An amazing resource with tons of information and in incredible wealth of links. They offer this self-deprecating introduction: “This is all pretty high tech for a bunch of people living in the past, but then you probably know our valley by its other name, Silicon Valley.”
Minnesota History Along the Highways, compiled by Sara P. Rubinstein. Published by the Minnesota Historical Society. Locations and texts of 254 historic markers, 60 geologic markers, and 29 historic monuments in all corners of the state.
Ramsey County Historical Society, the officially-recognized historical society of Ramsey County. The Society’s two primary programs are the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life and the quarterly magazine on Ramsey County history and St. Paul.
The Regional Alliance for Preservation, formerly the Upper Midwest Conservation Center at the Minneapolis Art Institute.
Minnesota HYPERLINK “http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind/index.html” Lakefinder, sponsored by the DNR, provides in-depth information about 4500 lakes and rivers in the state – surveys, maps, water quality data and more, including a new mobile app for the water or ice-based fisher.
North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral History, a database including 2,162 authors and approximately 100,000 pages of information re. immigration to America and Canada, 1800-1850. Produced in collaboration with the University of Chicago by Alexander Street Press.
Finding Aids to Collections Organized by Topic in the Archive of Folk Culture, compiled by Ross. S. Gerson. Minnesota Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture. Library of Congress. Sound recording in various formats. You won’t believe the recordings they have preserved. The American Folklife Center
Minnesota Spoken Word Association, formed to create an alliance among spoken word artists and a resource center. Emphasis on youth.