The flapper’s a “young bird unable to rise in flight” (c. 1917)

During the late-1910s, Winona Wilcox was a syndicated columnist called by The Day Book, "a writer of the human heart." Writing during the Great War and the peak of the women's suffrage movement, her articles were witty and sarcastic, and on the topics of marriage and womanhood, in some ways, progressive. Though still constrained by the conservatism of the time, Wilcox often advocated for female economic independence and co-equal marriage. Given her pedestal, her work was often the first exposure many readers had to these developing ideas. In this article from January 10, 1917, she plays the role of social observer, reporting on a new phenomenon that would become the major trend of the next decade: the flapper. Marking an end of the Victorian Woman, this was a new femininity Zelda Fitzgerald embodied and her husband F. Scott immortalized in This Side of Paradise (1920). This was a postwar woman: independent, unconventional, self-expressive. The flapper was, in Wilcox's words, "more nearly the equal of the male than at any other age, and ... very apt to let him know it." ...

“Put it down the window and climb out”: Vice-President Humphrey at the University of Minnesota (1969-1970)

In March 2013, while writing my undergraduate history thesis on Hubert Humphrey’s role in the 1944 DFL merger, I spoke with University of Minnesota professor emeritus Dr. Hy Berman. As Minnesota’s “unofficial state historian,” I was excited not only to meet him but also discuss his friendship with the former vice president. One topic we spent much time on was Humphrey’s teaching at the University. All uncited quotations come from the transcript of our interview. [Excerpt]: "His office on campus was on the second floor of the Social Science Building — a corner office — and the Secret Service was still … protecting him. When they saw his office, they came to me and said, “That’s unacceptable,” because he was in a corner office, isolated. I said, “Well, that’s the biggest office. We’re going to furnish it nicely,” and they said, “We’re very unhappy.” "That evening I went to the hardware store and bought a rope ladder. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I brought it up the next day, went to the Secret Service guys and said, “This will do: Put it down the window and climb out.”"

Digital Humanities: Newspaper Mentions of Four MN Governors

As I've written elsewhere, given my time at the Initiative, I've developed an interest in Big Data analysis and how this methodology can be applied to history ("the digital humanities"). Specifically, as collections become digitized, the sheer volume of resources ought to inspire historians to find new ways to engage and manage information. While the result will only be as good as the analysis, it has the potential to reveal trends that otherwise may be implied but not obvious. The following tracks the state newspaper mentions of particular keywords -- in this case, names -- of four Minnesota governors: David M. Clough, John Lind, Samuel R. Van Sant, and John A. Johnson. For example, every instance in which "John" and "Lind" appear within five words of one another on a Minnesota newspaper page, that page is counted. Searching for variations of how these individuals were addressed (such as "Governor Van Sant" rather than "Samuel Van Sant" or "S.R. Van Sant") yield different counts but the overall trends are the same.

The Digital Humanities and Word Clouds

Ever since I joined the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, I've had a growing interest in big data analysis. With so much information being digitized -- whether it's criminal records, government documents, or historical archives -- researchers can engage with old resources in new ways and ask questions on scales previously unimaginable. Though I'm not too vocal about it here (yet), right now I'm working to apply what I've learned at the Initiative to the Library of Congress' "Chronicling America" archives. This crossing of fields, for those who are curious, is called the "Digital Humanities." (If you'd like to know more, I suggest checking out the historian Dan Cohen's blog. Fred Gibbs also has a helpful introduction to historical data analysis here). I won't reveal any of my graphics here (I'm saving them for a future post), but here's an example of the Digital Humanities that everyone's familiar with: Word clouds. Technically, these were possible before the digitization of famous works, but it's the kind of work that required slave labor teaching assistants. The following I put together in a few minutes using Project Gutenberg and Wordle.

The Time’s Don’t Change: “The 98 Per Cent Have Some Rights Entitled to Respect.”

It's time for some Minnesota trivia: Who said this?We have had to oppose the swaggering insolence and the millions of the war profiteers and the low moral endeavor politicians made by the froth of the war.... We needed success to call a halt to the wild orgie of Wall street legislation which the politicians thought … Continue reading The Time’s Don’t Change: “The 98 Per Cent Have Some Rights Entitled to Respect.”

The Colonel Surrenders in Minnesota

I'm posting here an article I originally wrote for the Kandiyohi County Historical Society newsletter titled, "The Colonel Surrenders in Minnesota" (here's the original .pdf). In it I tell the story of something that, growing up in Montevideo, I was vaguely aware of but knew nothing about. So, turning to the archives I tried to learn more about the only time (as far as I'm aware) a U.S. President visited western Minnesota. The fact that it happened to be Teddy Roosevelt just as he was planning his political comeback should be no surprise. Two years later, in 1912, the state rewarded Roosevelt's efforts with its 12 electoral votes. Radical politics were nothing new to the western part of the state -- in fact, the seventh district's first congressman was a member of the Populist Party and, later, represented by the prohibitionist Andrew J. Volstead. (It's forgotten now, but prohibition was a progressive movement that advocated for women's suffrage and workers' rights among other things). Because of this and the fact that the major rails to the Twin Cities ran through the region, it was not uncommon for satellite cities like Willmar to receive its fair share of speakers. Everyone from William Jennings Bryan (source) to Eugene V. Debs (source) and "Big Bill" Haywood (source) at one point or another visited the city. As I've written elsewhere, this region was later a hotbed for the Farmer-Labor Association. It was Appleton, for example, that Farmer-Labor Party Governor Elmer Benson called home.

“Upon the high and burnished heavens these words: The place to buy hardware stoves and tinsware is at Pierce’s.”

As part of my continuing series digging through the archives of the Internet, I came across the following in the January 30, 1897, edition of The Labor World, a weekly newspaper published in Duluth, MN. The Labor World (which is still around) sought not only to organize the working class within the "Twin Harbors" area of Duluth and Superior, WI, but also reported on local issues. Although I intend to write more about its coverage of Eugene V. Debs' frequent visits to the major port city, I found the following pretty funny. "Roasts the Editor" is an ad in the style of those one occasionally stumbles across that purports to be a Special Report by the magazine's Dentists Hate Him! expert. Maybe more hardware stone companies should follow Mr. "James Wouldbe Riley's" stead. ...

June 28, 1914: “Kills Heir to Throne of Austria”

Today, June 28, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Murdered alongside his wife while traveling through the streets of Sarajevo, it was the catalyst for a series of unfolding events that, one month later, led to Austria-Hungary's declaration of war on Serbia. Within one week, by August 5, 1914, Russia was marching west and Germany was at war with five countries, including France and Britain. As the fabric of Europe frayed, the United States maintained its neutrality. Among historians there is consensus that the shots fired in Sarajevo were the first shots fired in every successive western conflict - the Armistice of the "Great War" set the stage for the spread of fascism, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II. That in turn led to the Cold War and its proxy conflicts within the Middle East and elsewhere. I say this only to highlight the fact that it was an event that set the twentieth century as we know it into motion. Well, this and imperialism.

Minnesota on the Death of Darwin: “If one such man arises in a century, that century is fortunate.”

There's a certain charm about small-town newspapers. In the case of those early publications - long before radio, television, the Internet - this was where a community got its news, entertainment, and gossip. This was Facebook. As an archival historian, let me tell you: there's always something waiting to be discovered. So, after realizing that April 18 marked the anniversary of Charles Darwin's death, I thought I'd do a quick search to see how Minnesotans responded. But, first, I'd like to share something published three months earlier, on January 18, 1882. Now, for those unfamiliar with the evolution-creationism debate, the Nye-Ham debacle was their first exposure to the creationist movement. Far from being a contemporary phenomenon, though, that kind of nonsense proliferated before the ink on The Origin of Species was dry. Fortunately, then as now, there was always someone available to mock the church - before there was PZ Myers there was the small-town editor doing newspaper-vaudeville. In the New Ulm Weekly Review, for example, was published the text of a "sermon" by the fictional Reverence Plato Johnson.

Sinclair Lewis and Floyd B. Olson at Breezy Point Lodge

Overlooking Minnesota's Big Pelican Lake is a lodge, a large one, renowned for the visitors it's attracted in its long history. Everyone from actors to governors have stayed there, planting themselves on Breezy Point Resort's long, lumber decks overlooking the lake. It's some of the state's best fishing and also the spot where the author Sinclair Lewis met future-governor Floyd B. Olson for the first, and only, time in 1926. Spending the first half of the year in Kansas City gathering material for his next book in June Lewis headed to Breezy Point to sit down and write. His choice of the northwoods was twofold as it "offered a sophisticated inn where he could get a good meal and drink with Minneapolis' business elite, as well as rustic isolation" (Lingeman 282). When he wasn't writing, Lewis could be found in the lodge doing impressions (as he was known for) or leading guests "in hymn singing around the piano" (Lingeman 285). Many of these he knew by heart since childhood but some came from his time shadowing ministers for what would become Elmer Gantry.