Tag Archives: History

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).


Winter Oil Explosion in Casselton, North Dakota

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west.

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west. Oil plume just to the left of the signage on the horizon stretching south.

This afternoon while following up on a US-Dakota War historiographic line of research in the library at North Dakota State University, I received a few texts from a friend that read, “KFGO News says 7 oil tanker cars on fire, many have exploded near Casselton.” More went up after this text. This raised my eyebrow. It’s not often that oil tanker cars blow up in North Dakota, and my first thought was, “I sure hope this wasn’t in downtown Casselton.” I was thinking I would just stay in the library, but I also thought about how seeing something first hand is different from seeing it on the flatscreen. Historians are fanatics about primary sources. “Might as well make a contribution,” I thought.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota. The setting sun just dipped behind it.

Molly and I drove out west of Fargo on I-94 to Casselton, about a 20 minute ride one way. Here are some of the raw observations: when we started in Fargo, the temperature was -3°F, and when we finished up in Casselton it read -5°F. Sun dogs were also out to the right and left of the sun. Wind was steady out of the north. As we left Fargo, the sun was setting and snow wisped north-south over the interstate. By mile marker 340, we discerned that the horizontal haze in the distance was indeed produced by the burning oil. Since the wind was blowing hard from the north, this horizontal streak stretched south over the horizon. In the flat Red River Valley of the north, this means that the streak stretched south and was visible for a very, very long way. The setting sun dropped behind this streak, some photos of which are included.

I took the exit off of I-94 into Casselton, and we drove north on Highway 18 that runs south-north through town. I eventually parked the car in a parking lot just to the northeast of where the east-west railroad tracks intersect the north-south Highway 18. This is raw video from that:

Here are some subjective thoughts from the outing: I’m uncertain if anyone was hurt, or worse. I hope not. We all hope not. I also thought about the variety of apartments, residences and businesses along these railroads. Molly and I live two blocks north of one of these rail lines. I have friends that live right along them. And what about our neighbors to the north who went through something much worse than this in October 2013 in Quebec. Then I thought of how this will certainly be politicized in

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

numerous ways. Then I thought about how the world — all of us — have been born into a culture that relies on petroleum. It’s kind of a cultural inertia, something America, the West and the world has been increasingly addicted to at least since the turn of the 19th century. It seems that until oil becomes expensive enough, there will not be a massive enough cultural effort to harness other energy sources. We see signs of it, of course, with wind turbines and the hydroelectric. But it’ll be a while before all of these other alternatives eclipse petroleum. That’s kind of the way with the petroleum industrial complex. There is plastic all around us, too.

Anyhow, stay safe in Casselton, all. Looks like they may have already started evacuating the entire village…


Dunedin and Edinburgh Urban Landscapes

We — the global we — are in the historical shadow of global colonial settlement and struggles, and I thought it interesting how Scottish settlers imposed their image of Edinburgh on the urban landscape of Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand. I’ve heard a few shop owners in the last couple days remark on this, so I pulled a couple maps off Google Earth and loaded them up here, right below. Note the similarity of the octagon, and also the common Moray Place street names. The Dunedin New Zealand colonial layer is on top of what was Maori layers of meaning. And, indeed, that is another blog post all together. The first map is of a segment of Edinburgh, Scotland. The second of Dunedin, New Zealand.

Moray Place in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Moray Place in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Dunedin City Center

Moray Place in Dunedin, New Zealand.


Rough World Historical Thoughts on Castle Larnach

Castle Larnach, Dunedin, NZ.

Castle Larnach, Dunedin, NZ.

There are two items to blog about today. The first is the short record as to what we did yesterday, and the second is what is on the itinerary for today. They blend together, as life does, and I’ll try to make sense out of that below. Of the former:

Yesterday morning Matthew, Molly and I walked a couple blocks to the center of downtown Dunedin, to what I’ve been calling the undisputed octagon (because the city center was laid out like an octagon; not because it has any association with Ultimate Fighting). I learned quickly to watch for the little green man, an indicator that lets pedestrians know when it is a guarded time to cross the street. We also found a grand little breakfast shop. One contrast between NZ and ‘merica is that restaurants and cafes are, generally, a bit more spendy than the States. But this is offset by the reality that NZ servers are paid a greater wage than State-side servers, and this also means that when in NZ one is not expected to tip.

Also, the breakfast was delicious. Matt had French toast and Molly and I split a breakfast of egg, toast, bacon and sausage. It was a very traditional breakfast, at least if one grows up on the northern Great Plains of North America. In many ways NZ is like a parallel universe to the English-speaking Atlantic World, which in turn gives a person pause as to the influence the 18th– and 19th– century Great British world had on the globe. This is going to be a point of conversation for the second item today, which is the Writing Histories of Empire and Colonialism, this put on at St. Margaret’s College at the University of Otago, Dunedin.

Castle Larnach stairwell, from the top floor looking down.

Castle Larnach stairwell, from the top floor looking down.

One of the aims of this history workshop is to bat around and consider ideas about how to write solid global history. One of the potential problems with writing world history is that one is dealing with a large topic, and there is always a danger of saying nothing in an attempt to say everything. So this is why we don’t do that. Instead, a different way to go about it, at least as I’m sitting here and typing, is to 1) work in topics of 3s and 4s; 2) give the reader a personal element to fixate on; and 3) carry a theme/thesis that runs through the entire historical essay or monograph — this, arguably, can be a model for any writer’s workshop.

So to return to the first blogging topic for today: I’m thinking a bit about yesterday afternoon, when we all visited, had high tea, and took an afternoon stroll at and of Castle Larnach, a late-19th century industrial Victorian “home.” While wandering through this castle, I thought about simultaneously how great a view one had from the top of the castle tower and about the excessive absurdity of this kind of built la-la land. I say la-la land because castles, in their original utilitarian form, were built as defensive positions, often in an attempt to protect the feudal lord and local populace when mean outsiders wanted to be mean to the said lord, baron and locals.

In the case of Castle Larnach, this banker and politician made a ton of money off the New Zealand and Australian gold fields, and then decided to conceive of himself as some kind of varietal noble. It reminds me of super late-19th century castles in America, such as the James J. Hill home in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is these sorts of industrial wealth concentrations that, after the turn of the 19th century, Progressive Republicans such as Theodore Roosevelt thundered against, or sought to break up. (Out of this period in world history, we get self-validating, hyper-dodgy theses that the über-rich came up with, such as Social Darwinism and the Social Gospel — we’re rich because either nature or God made us rich). The notion here, though, is to consider how or if a world historical theme is reflected on the local level. Then, in theory, readers might think of their own regional histories as being both local and global.

Fern, the exhausted and super friendly castle dog at Castle Larnach. Nothing gets by Fern. Not that she cares, though.

Fern, the exhausted and super friendly castle dog at Castle Larnach. Nothing gets by Fern. Not that she cares, though.

Another point to consider is that the James J. Hill home, and this Scottish castle in Dunedin, could not be sustained for any length of time, at least not by a singular family. Today they have turned into public historical enclaves, administered by private or public entities, and the public has access to them in ways that they wouldn’t have in their original historic context.

Anyhow, and moving along, I’m excited to get after this first day’s seminar/workshop. All of the world history workshop attendees are required to read three different essays which, of course, I did on the flight over. The readings include Linda Colley, The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh (2007), Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire (2011), and Tony Ballantyne, “On Place, Space and Mobility in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand” in the New Zealand Journal of History, 45, 1 (2011). But enough about all this. It’s almost 8:00AM Dunedin time, and we need to track down this thing in Australia and NZ called breakkie.


World War II: Charles E. (“Bud”) Barth Photos

Just over a year ago, a great uncle of mine, Charles E. (“Bud”) Barth passed away. Charles was a front line medic in the European theatre of the Second World War (also in the Battle of the Bulge). Years prior I had the chance to get to know him better, even interviewing him for the United States Veteran’s History Project.

Because I blogged on Charles both here and here, another relation of someone attached to the same medical unit was able to find what I blogged, track me down, and e-mail me additional photos of Charles with his WWII unit. Here are those two photos of Charles with his detachment, these sent to me by the daughter of S/Sgt Kutik (who served alongside Charles).

Note: Charles originally hailed from Braddock, Emmons County, North Dakota.

An informal photo of Barth's medical detachment. Charles (kneeling) is second from the left.

An informal photo of Barth’s medical detachment. Charles (kneeling) is second from the left, just next to the standing soldier. The case of beverages in front of them is labeled, “Pepsi.”

409th Medical Detachment, Barth is front row, second from the left.

409th Medical Detachment, Barth is front row, second from the left.


Ideas of Fermentation and Distilled History

On this 4th of July morning (which, in America, is a secular holiday, or holy day), I finally got around to one of my short reading lists that concerns the scholarly study, specifically, of beer, and broadly of fermentation, booze and alcohol (or what academics sometimes refer to as ethyl). The four books in front of me include The Oxford Companion to Beer (Oxford University Press, 2012), two monographs by Patrick McGovern including Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton University Press, 2003) and Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages (University of California Press, 2009). The fourth work is The Archaeology of Alcohol and Drinking (University Press of Florida, 2008) by Frederick H. Smith, and this is perhaps the one that speaks most pointedly to the July 4, 2013 day since it is a part of The American Experience in Archaeological Perspective series.

Some booze studies scholarship.

Some booze studies scholarship.

Of all these books, the Oxford companion is put together like an encyclopedia rather than a narrative or anthology, and Oxford sensationalized it a bit by asking Tom Colicchio to write the short forward. Because I am in the dark on many facets of contemporary culture (it all moves and changes so fast, though; and Tom would have to Google our names as well), I had to Google Colicchio’s name, but when an image of his face appeared I recognized him immediately as one of those celebrity chefs. Tom noted how as he matured from his teens up to 2012, so did his appreciation toward beer. Of this work, though, I thought Oxford would have benefitted more to get a brew master to write the forward, or even a monk at a monastery that is renowned for beer. Tom works in the trade of acquiring James Beard Awards, culinary rage and sensationalism (which is how you make it in that business) whereas a monk devotes time to brewing, reflection, and self-reflection (in large part for humanity and the sustainability of the abbey or monastery). Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver drafted the preface to this work, and he speaks a bit more to the beer trade.

The Oxford companion is huge like an encyclopedia, numbering 919 pages, or around 2″ thick. I think the only way you’d go about using this book is to check up on a pointed question with the index, look at the topical features just after the preface, or to open it up to a random page. On page 674, the entry “public houses (pubs)” appears, noting that the institution of the pub did not have much renown outside of the U.K. until business owners decided to bring Irish Disneyland to the world with Irish-themed pubs (I suppose the idea was that not everyone can make it to Ireland to visit a pub, so might as well bring the Irish-themed pub to the non-Ireland world). It is moderately surprising to not see Kingsley Amis referenced in the index of this work, but I suppose if a person is building a scholarly library on beer and booze, they already know about it (Amis knew his booze, and he could be accused of being just as interested in its effect as he was the flavor and body of the stuff).

On the first page is the entry “abbey beers,” and this expands on the brewing expertise of the Belgian Trappist monks, and the established “appelation (controlee)” which lets everyone know where the monastic beer originated (time, space and chronology is important to the monastic tradition for many reasons). In reading and writing about this passage, for at least a couple years I have hoped that the monks of Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota, might at some point down the line consider brewing beer with North Dakota grains, barley and hops. And even better, sharing it (but that’s totally up to them).

As for the works by McGovern, I first came across his name in a popular history of booze put out by the Smithsonian in July-August 2011 (the great article linked to here). McGovern focused on fermentation in Western Civilization (the region of Mesopotamia is the cradle of fermentation), and he also made the case that we today are part of a long fermentation process (the long durée of beer drinking). In McGovern’s scholarship, he is a bit heavy-handed in his testimonies to the irrefutability of the archaeological record or the interpretation thereof (“There is no hidden bias lurking in a pottery sherd or a stone wall, as there might be in a written document.” [McGovern, 2003: 5]). But that sophomoric understanding of philosophy and theory is outweighed by a broad knowledge of the history of beer and wine.

German-produced Bartmann wine bottle from the British settlement site of Jamestown, Virginia. (Smith, 2008: 12)

German-produced Bartmann wine bottle from the British settlement site of Jamestown, Virginia. (Smith, 2008: 12)

Of the four books, the best on the subject is by Frederick H. Smith. And I define best in the sense that it is an academic treatment of the subject that tracks both the subject itself and what other scholars from the academy have said about it (like brewing, the origins of this tradition is monastic in and of itself). The first chapter to this work alludes to numerous scholars in alcohol studies (a kind of subfield in history and anthropology), and the subsequent chapters go on to discuss the Iberian storage vessels first used to transport the sauce throughout the Atlantic World, from the Old to the Jamestown colony in the New, and here to the production of alcohol to its trade and consumption and so on. By the 16th and 17th centuries, hand-blown glass bottles surpassed the ceramic vessels, and Smith notes that when these bottles are recovered, so is the booze. For example, an early 17th century glass bottle of wine was once recovered by marine archaeologists, and it turned out that the Dutch warship had wine at 10.6% alcohol content, this within the same range as the content of wine today.

The final chapter in Smith’s monograph stems from a 2005 study he did on the role alcohol played in the 1816 slave revolt in Barbados (four decades after elite Anglo-America got its start). These case studies are a more effective way to explore the social history of booze in all of its variety and nuance. Specific to this are the caves on Barbados, a place where self-liberated slaves could escape to on an island and carve out an underground existence. Without going too much further into these works, it seems that on July 4th it is important to acknowledge the philosophical substance of America’s Declaration of Independence, but more importantly to know that it was a document prepared by an elite minority on the backs of an enslaved majority.


Historic Scandinavian Log Cabins: Then and Now

Yesterday I visited a project area in the Sheyenne River Valley in southeastern North Dakota, and on the way back from fieldwork I stopped by some static public historical signage and historical Scandinavian-American log cabins on one of America’s Scenic Byway routes. I snapped some photos, downloaded them in the computer last night, and then started to do a bit of research on the archaeological project area: history often informs the archaeology, since much happens with the history of an archaeological site before archaeologists have a chance to descend on it.

While looking through a series of digitized photos, I came across a historic photo in the Digital Horizons/ND Institute for Regional Studies archive. The photo is titled, “Building at Fort Ransom, N.D.,” and it is a log cabin today located some miles north of Fort Ransom, N.D. I compared the historic with the modern this morning. Below are the photos I’ve looked at: one is a 1950s photo of the cabin, and below that is a June 16, 2013 photo. Note the gable-end elevation, and compare the shapes of the logs, and the seams of the logs. You’ll notice that they match one another.

A photo of the Slattum cabin in the 1950s.

A photo of the Slattum cabin in the 1950s.

A June 16, 2013 photo of the Slattum Cabin. Note the gable end elevation, and compare the seams of the log cabin with the seams of the gable elevation in the 1950s photo. They are the same.

A June 16, 2013 photo of the Slattum Cabin. Note the gable end elevation, and compare the seams of the log cabin with the seams of the gable elevation in the 1950s photo. They are the same.

As the public historical signage said, this cabin was built in 1879 by Norwegian immigrant Theodore Slattum, and he originally hailed from Christiana, Norway. He immigrated to Fillmore County, Minnesota in 1870, and he and his wife, Jorgine, relocated to the Sheyenne River Valley in 1879, where they built this cabin. They also raised nine children in the cabin (they modified the original cabin from what it looks like here in the photos). In 1945, this cabin was moved to the Fort Ransom Historic Site, and then moved back to this original location at some point around the turn of the 20th century (this is likely why the description of the cabin’s provenience is what it is within Digital Horizons/NDIRS; and this is also an example of how history informs archaeology, and not the other way around).

The Slattum family, this photo from the public historical signage at the cabin site. Photo taken on June 16, 2013.

The Slattum family, this photo from the public historical signage at the cabin site. Photo taken on June 16, 2013.