Monthly Archives: January 2014

Welk Homestead and German-Russian Interest

The spike in blog visits resulted from a post on the State Historical Society of North Dakota's acquisition of the German-Russian Lawrence Welk homestead in Emmons County, North Dakota.

The spike in visits to my personal blog resulted from a post on the German-Russian Lawrence Welk homestead in Emmons County, North Dakota.

Just a couple days ago I looked at the blogging stats for a short piece I did on the Welk Homestead, this posted on January 21, 2014. I know that I’m interested in local history the world over, meaning that wherever I go, I want to know what happened before. But I also know that just because I’m interested in something doesn’t mean others are interested in it too. In the case of the Welk Homestead, though, and in the case of this blog (which, at this point in time, has a regular audience of 46), the number of views skyrocketed when I made some historical links between Welk and the German-Russians, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota acquiring the homestead.

Over at NDSU’s Center for Heritage Renewal and the Heritage Trails Facebook page, we’ve been chatting about the styles of various German-Russian vernacular architecture in North Dakota. On January 21, I posted my Welk/German-Russian blog to the Heritage Trails Facebook page, and this generated some feedback. It went like this, a comparative conversation between a German-Russian home north of Kulm, LaMoure County, southeastern North Dakota and that of the Hutmacher Complex just southwest of Killdeer, Dunn County, west-central North Dakota.

Janinne Paulson: “Great photo, Aaron!”

Suzzanne Kelley: “Interesting that this [Kulm] family added the L-porch, as did the Hutmachers [near Killdeer]. We’ve found that the porch corners created problems for maintaining the roof structure; here, they have TWO places for problems with erosion from convergent lines of run-off. Just wondering how that worked for them.”

Aaron Barth: “Was the L-porch used as a separate mud room, and perhaps as the initial entry to keep the cold out of the main home in the winter?”

Suzzanne Kelley: “Yes, which I suppose is what made the addition not only viable but necessary, despite the pitfalls of seaming an addition onto the original structure.”

Aaron Barth: “Not freezing to death is probably better than a leaky roof.”

Tom Isern: “OK, I just now studied this photo, and it’s evident this [Kulm] dwelling has an earthen roof, like the Hutmacher house, except this one uses some milled lumber for rafters. Also, it appears to me the earthen roof is composed of sods. This is different from what we tried with restoration of the Hutmacher roof. Recently we acquired evidence indicating that sods indeed were used in the Hutmacher case. So now we have to explore that further, and, I suspect, recalibrate. Also, I think Suzzanne is being kind, as usual. I think the L built onto the long house is a design mistake, vernacular though it may be, sure to cause water problems eventually.”

Aaron Barth: “We need an NSF grant to let someone live in the Hutmacher and a German-Russian east Missouri River home for a year and a half. I’m only 23% kidding…”

Richard Rothaus: “TV series.”

The temps in North Dakota, while we were (and still are) blogging and social-media-ing about this, have been sustained sub-zero, described by international meteorologists as some kind of Polar Vortexing. We don’t let the weather discourage us. But it does make us think about how 19th century inhabitants of the northern Great Plains survived, perceived of, described and thrived during the winters. Earthen homes are excellent for this, though, whether Dakota, Lakota, Nakota, Mandan-Hidatsa, or German-Russian. Want to learn how folks survived in pre-industrial times? Listen to the local history.

Winterscape Driving

Winter Driving

Our view of winter driving before the sun set.

Typed out on Saturday, January 25, 2014:

Since Molly and I are driving in a borderline blizzard, at night, back from Bismarck to Fargo, and since she’s driving, I thought I’d type out some descriptions here while riding shotgun. We’re just passing Casselton, where the famous mushroom cloud rose up out of the northern Great Plains winterscape a little more than a month ago. It’s nearly pitch black here in the car, the only illumination coming from the buttons and dials on the dashboard and headlights from oncoming traffic in the northern, west-bound lane.

We’re keeping it at a steady 60mph, snow blowing thicker and thicker south-to-north across the road. More urgent travelers are passing us in the left lane. When they pass, they kick up the snow starting to drift in the left-lane, and it creates a kind of rooster tail that the wind immediately sweeps north. Beyond the interstate off in the prairie it is nearly pitch black. The illuminated billboards on the right side of the road emerge in the distance out of the blowing snow. As we approach they glow increasingly brighter. In this blowing snow at night, just as we pass the billboards, you can see how they create drift. As the wind hits the flat surface it swirls, and the blowing snow curls up over the top of the signage. All of this is brightened by the billboard flood lights.

On the radio is Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. Of course, those of us who live on the prairie know Garrison gets his best material from our hour-to-hour reality. It’s good stuff. And we appreciate him for it.

We just passed I-94 Exit 343, and the lights of Fargo brighten, creating that orange pinkish hue through the blowing snow. This grows in intensity the closer we get. That you’re reading this blog entry means we safely made the Saturday night drive. Good weekend to you all.

German-Russian Migration to the Northern Great Plains

This last week while revisiting John C. Hudson’s 1976 article, “Migration to an American Frontier” in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 66, No. 2, pp. 242-265, I came across this photo of German-Russian vernacular architecture. As the caption says, this is from 1894, taken right around Kulm, LaMoure County, North Dakota — the county just east of Emmons County, where the Welk German-Russian homestead is located (recent articles on that here, here, and here).

1894 Sod House Kulm, ND

The Welk homestead, in turn, is just down the road from Braddock, Emmons County, North Dakota, where my great grandfather Barth homesteaded and farmed. Barth was an Ohio-German imbedded amongst the German-Russians, something not as difficult to pull off as it might sound. Anyhow, below is also a map of the German-Russian migration to the Dakotas, at least as it played out just before and after the turn of the 19th century.

German Russian Migration

Daughters of Norway, Fargo Chapter

Yesterday, late afternoon, I texted Sean Burt to see if he wanted to meet up for some long-overdue conversation at Würst Bier Hall in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. After he confirmed, I bundled up and started my southward trek down the east side of North Broadway. Along the way I noticed a woman taking a picture of the historic First Lutheran church. I asked if she was getting a good picture, and we chatted just a bit, and she said she was up from California for a meeting. I noted that she was a committed meeting-goer, coming from California to a Fargo winter for a meeting. Here is how the conversation roughly played out:

Aaron: “California is a long way to come for a meeting.”

Californian: “Yeah, but it’s worth it: a bunch of us just met here at First Lutheran about re-igniting the Daughters of Norway chapter here in Fargo.”

Aaron: “Ah, good deal. My great grandparents were Swede, and there’s a lot of continuity worth sharing throughout Scandinavia. Are you ethnic Norwegian?”

Californian: “No, I’m Polish.”

Aaron: “Oh, I see. Is your husband Norwegian?”

Californian: “No, he’s Algerian.”

Aaron: “Oh, I see. That makes sense. Well here’s my card. Let me know if and how I can help you in the future.”

So I was satisfied with having met an ethnic Pole from California who just finished a meeting in Fargo about firing up the Daughters of Norway once again. Heritage groups are fun that way. It’s only a matter of getting involved.

Blizzard Day History Punk

As I type, I’ve got about 30 minutes before Troy Reisenauer picks me up and we head down to Les Dirty Frenchmen‘s global headquarters on Main in downtown Fargo, North Dakota for another Thursday night practice session. I have my earplugs in my front pocket, and I’m not OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAafraid to use them: as we all get longer in the tooth, these sorts of measures are necessary. I don’t think many of us are eager to burn the punk rock candle at both ends the way that, say, the Ramones so dutifully did — punk rock road dogs for life.

Anyhow, earlier today — because universities were cancelled due to a death blizzard — I had a chance to review and prep for lectures I’m co-delivering with Angela Smith at North Dakota State University. Smith and I are rotating here and there, so that I’ll pick up a block of week-long lectures — American History, 1877 to the Present — intermittently throughout the semester. Today I revisited the required course book readings for the start of my lecture on Monday. The topic is the contested American West, and chapter 17 of the book opens with Frederick J. Turner. So this in turn induced me to yank several works by and on Turner off my shelf this evening, and currently I’m revisiting Allan Bogue, Frederick Jackson Turner: Strange Roads Going Down (U of Oklahoma Press, 1998).

Memory Groups

It’s closing in on 7:28AM as I type, and I thought I’d do a quick recap of this last week. Just yesterday evening on my walk home from NDSU campus, I was thinking how much more exciting blog posts on exploding trains are in contrast to posts about napping. Yet when it comes down to it, and if I’d have a choice, I’d rather read up on nap studies than exploding trains, since the former — naps — are much more likely to affect and influence a larger cross-section of society than, say, oil trains that explode near Casselton, North Dakota. Both are important. But I tend to enjoy figuring out how to find and make the otherwise mundane and boring (naps, or even a German-Russian homestead) interesting than focusing on the also important mushroom clouds rising up out of the northern Great Plains winter prairiescape.

Anyhow, I just confirmed a couple lecture-talks this semester at universities within the region, and these talks will build off published research on, broadly speaking, how and why the US-Dakota Wars have been remembered for the last 150 years in the Dakotas and Minnesota. I’m perpetually fascinated by this topic of memory. I suppose one reason is that by looking at how and why groups remember an event is just as informative as the actual event itself. And maybe even more. By studying these groups, we’re able to unpack the cultural, social and political set of ethos that various memory groups brought to bear on the interpretation of historical events.

These groups, in turn, are responsible for advancing the general topics in history that we know today. There is, for another example, the world historical event of the Second World War. But there are also the memory groups — in this case led by Tom Brokaw (also from South Dakota), Tom Hanks, and the late Stephen Ambrose — who study, popularize, and consider America’s involvement in the Second World War. These memory groups have reasons for studying what they study, and I want know the philosophy and technics behind it — the why and the how.

Early Afternoon Recharge Naps

I just read a short blog entry by Tom Isern, a friend, colleague and adviser here at North Dakota State University. Speaking about rising early in the morning, he noted on his productive writing output before sunrise, and then he said that early afternoon napping will undermine his zeal for a heroically productive day. Napping, Tom added, “is not a bad thing, either.” This is correct.

A couple summers ago, before my late Grandma Barth passed away, we sat in the living room chatting one weekend afternoon. I told her I was going to go take a quick nap, and she fired back right away and said, “Good: everyone should take a nap in the afternoon.” My grandma lived to 96 years of age. And this is true about naps. If we treat ourselves decently, we’re likely going to treat those around us decently. Naps are decent things to expect of yourself and others.

Brief Thoughts On Sherman Alexie’s 2007 Novel

Earlier this morning I just finished Sherman Alexie’s novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown & Company, 2007). It is excellent, and it pushed my mind in a variety of directions. This is what a novel is supposed to do, of course: an exploration of ideas through fictional narrative. The phrase “That’s a novel idea” smacks of this definition. Novels are real handy, too, since they operate under a kind of “fictional” rubric, giving the author lee-way to subjectively discuss real life issues and ideas. Because it’s fiction, though, it isn’t true — but it is. This is why the fiction section is arguably more truthful than the non-fiction section (which too is truthful, but with more distance).

So I thought about that while reading the work. I also thought about how this novel was originally passed along from Karis Thompson to Molly, my girlfriend, and then to me. The novel, on the local scene, is slowly crawling northward through downtown Fargo, North Dakota. It is leaving a trail of ideas in its wake. A bunch of us will have to get together to chat about what this novel means to all of us.

Alexie WhiteWhile reading this novel, I also-also thought about sustained broken treaties, the creation of the reservation system, about how the main character in this novel deals with historical trauma, and how the Dawes Act was and is seriously problematic. Then while reading this I thought about a segment of Richard White’s The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge University Press, 1991). In the introduction, one of the parts I have underlined, with the words “This is good” scribbled in the margins, is this:

…the middle ground. The middle ground is the place in between: in between cultures, peoples, and in between empires and the nonstate world of villages. It is a place where many of the North American subjects and allies of empires lived… On the middle ground diverse peoples adjust their differences through what amounts to a process of creative, and often expedient, misunderstandings. People try to persuade others who are different from themselves by appealing to what they perceive to be the values and practices of those others… (White, 1991: xxvi)

This brings up the point that there is no such thing as purity in culture. The question or thought is a fallacy from the beginning. And this also means that since there is no such thing as cultural purity, then there is no such thing as cultural death, or a culture that is dead. Alexie demonstrates this through his novel, about a Spokane reservation kid perceiving of himself as living in two worlds: the Native reservation world, and the non-Native reservation world.

It also gives rise to the idea about how much emphasis we humans put on geopolitical boundaries. When we cross the boundary, say, between northeast Italy and southern Austria, we’ll note that people don’t suddenly stop speaking Italian after we cross south-to-north into Austria. What we do note is that while the line is distinct on a map, it isn’t so clear on the ground and in reality.

So those are my short thoughts on Alexie’s novel today. And I wanted to share that and get it down on this here blog. Back to technical writing and revising.

When CNN Airs Your YouTube Train Explosion Video

One week ago I drove from Fargo to Casselton, North Dakota, to take in first hand what happened with the train explosion. Details of that outing are linked to here. The next morning I checked my e-mail in-box, and CNN’s Justin Lear had a message waiting for me. He wondered if it was okay for CNN to use my YouTube video. My thought was, “Yeah. Sure.” So I e-mailed him back, we corresponded briefly, and eventually CNN put my video on their page. Click here to see what it looked like.

When you blog exploding or burning trains, this is what happens to your blog's site visitation.

When you blog exploding or burning trains, this is what happens to your blog’s site visitation.

The footage also got me thinking a bit about how Lear might have come across the video in the first place, this through the computational algorithms built by the internet folks (at Microsoft, Google, and so on). If you happen to be within photographic range of exploding trains, or the burning aftermath of exploding trains, and you upload this footage to YouTube, there’s a good chance Justin Lear will get a hold of you.

I think, perhaps, the most enjoyable footage had to do with the on-the-spot local narration from North Dakotans who caught footage of the actual explosion. If you click on this link and go to 0:24 seconds, you’ll hear through-and-through NoDaker commentary: “There it goes,” and this followed by “There it goes.” Phonetically, it sounds like this: “Der it goeas.” And while this makes us smile, this is the reflection of a North Dakota dialect (played up pretty heavily in the movie Fargo — thank you Coen brothers). The sound of it is completely disarming, and you can hear our Scandinavian and German-Russian great grand-parents within it.