Tag Archives: History

Crosby Threshing Show

On July 20, 2014, Molly and I went to the Crosby Threshing Bee in Crosby, Divide County, northwestern North Dakota. Years before my Grandpa Barth passed away, he had always asked me to attend the threshing bee in Braddock, Emmons County, south-central North Dakota. For whatever reason, I never made it to the Braddock threshing bee (and I wish I had). I did go to my Grandpa’s farm with him on numerous occasions, though, sometimes stopping at the small-town local bank in Hazelton, and always stopping for lunch at the local deli/cafe.

So yesterday, while walking around the threshing bee in Crosby, I was continuously reminded of my grandpa. And of the advent of industrial agricultural practices, at least as it looked at the turn of the 19th century. I also thought of the novel history, Big Wheat by Richard Thompson. A year or more ago, Larry Schwartz, librarian at Minnesota State University Moorhead, recommended me this book. It’s good, and it gives the reader an idea of what it was like to be a migratory laborer employed by one of these outfits. In North Dakota, large bonanza farming took place in Cass County at the Dalrymple bonanza farm, and the Chaffee bonanza farm, amongst others. I was catching my historical bearings and thinking of all this while wandering through the Crosby threshing bee with Molly.

Below is a short clip of the tractors, complete with coal-burning stoves, whirring gears, and popping pistons.


Flag Day and Thoughts on Art and Growing Gardens

On Thursday evening (06/12/2014), Molly and I strolled down to the Plains Art Museum to hear Sandra Menefee Taylor speak about her exhibit, Heart/Land: Sandra Menefee Taylor’s Vital Matters. This exhibit is on the 3rd floor of the Plains, at 704 First Avenue North in downtown Fargo, just in case you’re in the area and want to visit. Two things among many stand out as I think back on taking in the talk and the exhibit.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

The first was an all too brief conversation with Abby Gold about farming, or gardening, at the historic Probstfield Farm just north of Moorhead, Minnesota. Molly and I, and two of our friends, decided to go in on a small community garden plot, the idea being that the four of us can more easily tend to such a garden than two or one of us.

I told Abby that when one has a garden, or a farm, one is suddenly paying more attention to weather patterns, especially rain. If we don’t have rain for more than a day and a half, then it means someone has to go and irrigate: literally one of us has to coordinate with the others, and say, “Okay, we’ll run up to the farm this evening, walk over to the watering station with buckets, and haul water back to our plot and gently water each row.” This, in turn, means that we are connected to the soil and land, at least if we want a harvest (and at least if we want to harvest beans so we can pickle them).

I said all this (more or less) to Abby, with the broader idea of how gardens are healthy for the psychology and soul. If I did not have a garden like this, irrigation would not cross my mind, and I would not pay as close attention to rain patterns as well. This garden, too, is bringing Molly and I, and our two friends, closer together, since we are privileged with the obligation of caring for our small rows of crops. We are a team.

The second point that stands out in my mind from Thursday evening was brought up during Sandra Taylor’s talk. It dealt with four ways in which one might consider approaching life. The four ways are as follows (and it turns out a lot of us already carry out these ways, but it’s nice to have someone articulate them):

  1. Show up. Be on time. I’ll add even another point: be early.
  2. Pay attention to what is going on in front of you. I’ll also add: research and think about what will go on in front of you, and then actively pay attention when it is happening.
  3. Speak the truth, and do so without judgment. I’ll add: we can tell the truth all the time, and we can do so without judging. It does not have to become entangled in emotion, or polemics, or name calling, and so on.
  4. Be open to the infinite range of un-intended outcomes. Or don’t be attached to a particular outcome. Things will never play out the way we think they will. So we might as well remind ourselves of that, and carry on.

Okay, I’ll end there. I just wanted to set this down and float it out there into the blogosphere. Happy weekend all. It’s Flag Day by the way, too.


Memorial Weekend

Memorial Day weekend burger grill.

Memorial Day weekend burger grill.

It’s Friday evening and Molly and I are sitting on the living room futon which now faces west. It points us in the direction of a screen porch, and beyond this we can see the youthful spring green of deciduous trees and leaves set against a background of grayish-blue sky. A storm is brewing out west for sure. You can smell it. Something to do with the ozone.

We live in pre-WWI construction, so we are also treated to a kind of pre-WWII sense of place. I haven’t been able to put words to the smell, but the smell I’m smelling reminds me of my late Grandma Christy’s house on the 700 block of North 4th Street in Bismarck, North Dakota. That house, too, was built prior to the First World War. Anything built before the Second World War has this sense of smell and place to it. The homes and apartments all have hard wood floors, radiator heating, and super tall ceilings. They were built before the invention and ascent of conditioned air.

My latest archaeological find of Minnesota Twins propaganda.

My latest archaeological find of Minnesota Twins propaganda.

So now that it is Memorial Day Weekend, I thought I would post the epitome of Americana. I love this stuff. Baseball and cowboy charcoal grilled burgers. Memorial Day weekend is a grand extension of Decoration Day, a Civil War day of remembrance.

This evening also got me thinking a bit about all the German-Americans that poured into the United States when, in the words of Lt. Aldo Raine, people were getting out of Europe while the getting was good. Massive religious and political upheavals in the 19th century (this is the most focused brush stroke I’m going to use right now) induced hundreds of thousands of Europeans to simply leave Europe. They crossed the Atlantic and poured in the United States. A large swath of these immigrants came from Germany, or German-speaking countries (I have often hypothesized that the reason Germany started two big ones in the same century had to do with this intellectual emigrant drain from the previous century). And the Germans, when they arrived in the United States, took up numerous causes. In some cases they played baseball. And in other cases they agitated for emancipation. I like to imagine that they also grilled burgers, too. Baseball and burgers. Happy Memorial Day.


Happy Mother’s Day

Vivian in the late-1910s on the Swedish-American farmstead just northeast of Bremen, Wells County, North Dakota.

Vivian in the late-1910s on the Swedish-American farmstead just northeast of Bremen, Wells County, North Dakota. That is Vivian’s handwriting at the top of the photo too.

It’s Mother’s Day (of course, every day is mother’s day). It is a holiday with origins in the post-Civil War (American) generation, championed by Anna Jarvis just after the turn of the 19th century. The idea was to get together all the moms who had sons die in the Civil War. Today we use it to recognized the heroine feats of motherhood.

Molly and I drove over to Bismarck, North Dakota, to spend Mother’s Day weekend with Julie and Paul (my parents). I also got flowers for Molly’s late mother a couple days ago, because mothers are all around us. Always. Last night, before bed, Molly and I (or Molly and Me, which has a nice ring to it) stumbled into a family archive in Julie and Paul’s basement. Numerous photos from my late grandmother, Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, who passed away a year ago this month.

There are a lot of photos within the archive, and a personal project goal will be to digitize them, get family members digital copies, and then consider conversations with archivists at the State Historical Society of North Dakota or NDSU’s North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies or UND’s Special Collections for eventual curation. This is why we have state historical societies and regional archives: it captures what us global locals have been on about from one generation to the next. And it is better to digitize and then curate them with a sound archives than to keep them in a box in your basement (which can flood, or something like that).

But back to Grandma Barth, and a couple photos I digitized for uploading purpose here. To celebrate Mother’s Day. The photo at top is of Vivian, taken likely in 1918 or 1919, just northeast of Bremen, northeastern Wells County, North Dakota. The second photo is of Vivian in the mid- to late-1930s, likely when she moved off the farm to Bismarck, North Dakota. And the third photo was taken likely during or around the time Vivian was attending one of those late-1930s college programs to train as a secretary. She later held positions at the Bank and state capitol of North Dakota. She did this while tending to her three boys and husband (a total of four boys). She was loving (and still is), hard-working (I remember she gardened up until she was 91), and she babysat us grandkids countless times.

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Vivian in the late 1930s.

 

When I was real little, I remember being bummed out when my parents left for a couple weeks of vacation (I am blessed with great parents, so I tended to get bummed out in their absence). To set me at ease, before bed that night my grandma recounted a story of how her dad at the age of 13 boarded a boat in Sweden with his uncle, and set out for Ellis Island and America. She reminded me, “He was only 13.” Grandma had a way with bringing gravity and reason to any situation that was or seemed stressed. She also made extra ordinary chocolate chip cookies, Swedish meatballs, and, well, you name it. Here’s to you, Vivian. And Grandma Christy (for another blog, perhaps next Mother’s Day). And here’s to the memory of all mothers, and to making memories with our mothers today.

Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, I'm thinking taken after she relocated from Bremen to Bismarck, North Dakota.

Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, I’m thinking taken after she relocated from Bremen to Bismarck, North Dakota.


History Mash-Up: O’ Brother the Tennessee Valley Authority

I call this slide, "TVA O' Brother," a combination of the map from Roark, et al., "The American Promise" (2012, p. 726) and the handbill for "O' Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)

I call this slide, “TVA O’ Brother,” a combination of the map from Roark, et al., “The American Promise” (2012, p. 726) and the handbill for “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000)

For the second lecture on the Great Depression tomorrow at North Dakota State University in Fargo, I’m showing a map of the Tennessee Valley Authority with the handbill for “O’ Brother Where Art Thou,” (2000) the backdrop of the movie set in the TVA of the 30s. My reasoning is that 1) this is a fun visual; 2) the Coen Brothers are great; and 3) students in the future are much more likely to see “O’ Brother” than a TVA map. The idea is that both of these visuals will leave a singular imprint, and from here on out when they hear George Clooney lip sync, there’s a greater possibility that they’ll think about the history of the TVA, the Great Depression, FDR’s responses, hydroelectric power dams, etc.


Friends in Fargo this Weekend

It’s about 3:23PM, so I thought I’d break just a moment for tea and a blog entry to throw out a little PR for some colleagues and friends.

Two events are going down in Fargo this Saturday, March 15. Well, wait a minute: certainly there are more than two events going down in Fargo this Saturday. But here are the two events that I know of right now, this Monday afternoon. The two that I’m going to talk about. You should definitely go see other events, too, above and beyond this.

The first event is a benefit for a friend and scholar, Mike Casler. Mike was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011, and he’s been through a battery of surgeries and radiation treatment. Mike, along with a bunch of us, are gathering at The Bowler in Fargo (2630 South University Dr.) anywhere from 4:00-11:55PM for the official Mike Casler Benefit Fund — again this Saturday, March 15. Also, Mike is the author and historian of several upper Missouri River scholarly works, including Steamboats of the Fort Union Fur Trade: An Illustrated Listing of Steamboats on the Upper Missouri River, 1831-1867 (Ft. Union Association, 1999); and he regularly collaborates and conspires (in a good way) with the Great Plains titan of anthro, archaeology and history, W. Raymond Wood (some of Ray’s works here, here, and here, and his memoirs here).

And also on Saturday, March 15, Keith Bear will be playing Mandan-Hidatsa flute at 8:15PM in The Avalon. This is a part of the larger Great Winter Crow Show organized by Dawn and the Spirit Room Galleries. Also check that out from 5:00-10:00PM. You can read more about Keith at this link here. The event is sponsored by the Avalon Event Center, the Lake Region Art Council, and the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Okay, that was a 5-minute blog post update. Back to it.


Some Thursday Teaching Notes

I rounded out another lecture for tomorrow, this on the particulars, complexities, triumphs and problems of the Progressive Era at the turn of the 19th century. After that I dropped into Bill Caraher’s blog and read a bit on his latest pedagogy, including the ideas of a slow archaeology part I and part II (which is great, and good to think about in our hyper-drive digital 21st century world). This, in turn, induced me to reflect just a bit on teaching this week at North Dakota State University.

The lectures I deliver, at least this semester at NDSU, are American History 1877-present. The class text is The American Promise: A History of the United States, by Roark, et al., (New York: St. Martin’s Press, Fifth Edition, Value Edition, 2012). The text itself is accessible, both in its prose and price (Amazon.com has the value edition listed at $48.38 with free shipping). Considering what I paid for required course materials during my 1999-2002 undergraduate training in history at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, this ranks up there with sensibly priced text books, even over a decade later in 2014 (presumably text books would cost more today than in 1999 — presumably).

I co-lecture (or lecture every 2nd or 3rd week) with Dr. Angela Smith, the powerhouse Public and Digital Historian within NDSU’s Department of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies (some of Angela and her student’s work linked to here). On Tuesday evening I led a non-mandatory review session with the students to prep them for their exam yesterday, Wednesday. The key to successful reviews are manifold: presenting the material in a repetitious but non-open-mouth-breathing kind of way.

Perhaps the most damaging thing a history lecturer can do is deliver history the way the stereotypical high school coach was charged with teaching history; that is, reading for 50 minutes directly from the textbook (which, in turn, reflects just how important American public school systems think of the teaching of history — sigh). Impressing the historical record into the minds of freshmen and sophomores requires the lecturer to revisit the knowledge, and rehash it in several ways. I’m also interested in what students are thinking, yet this can be difficult to extract from a reticent demographic. Of course, the more students become familiar with the lecturer, the more (in theory) they’ll feel comfortable in speaking up and out about their thoughts.

In the mean time, it is always interesting to figure out ways of gauging success. To do this I had the students who attended the review session sign in on, well, a sign in sheet, and at the semester’s end this will be compared with students who did not attend the review session. In theory, students who attended the review session will do better than non-attendees (in theory, right?).