Tag Archives: National Archives

Let the Scholars at Your Family and Local History: Swedish Family Photos and Academic Scholarship

Albertina (Mattson) Larson. She eventually took up a farmstead with Hans T. Larson in northeastern Wells County, North Dakota.

Albertina (Mattson) Larson. Originally from Willmar, MN, she took up a farmstead with Hans T. Larson in northeastern Wells County, North Dakota.

Approximately 20 years or more ago, I recall going to a Larson-Mattson family reunion somewhere in Minnesota. It was important to the Mattson side of the family because my dad’s, mother’s, mother (in Swedish, “min far-mor-mor“), Albertina (Mattson) Larson, was indeed a Mattson. I remember at that family reunion being asked who in the room had relations with the Swedish-Minnesota Civil War Col. Hans Mattson, and I was nudged by my late Grandma (Larson-Mattson) Barth to raise my hand.

Now fast-forward to a year or two ago, when I read H. Arnold Barton, A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840-1940 (Southern Illinois University Press, 1994). Barton notes in his preface that ethnic groups engage in a kind of ethnogenesis. This means the groups develop a collective identity by gathering together and agreeing upon what they do not stand for, and what they do stand for (often times, we define ourselves by what we are not). While reading Barton’s book, though, I didn’t expect to come across Hans Mattson in the beginning of chapter 5. This was the individual I was told about over two decades at the family reunion in Minnesota. Perhaps Barton was in the crowd too. Who knows.

In his piece of academic scholarship, though, Barton said Hans Mattson hailed from the southern province of Skåne in Sverige, and he came to the U.S. in 1851 as one of the first northern European Swedish settlers to Minnesota. He served with distinction in the Civil War, and eventually became Minnesota’s Secretary of State. He returned to Sweden in 1868-69 to recruit more settlers and develop a chain-migration from Sweden to Minnesota. It worked. He acted as the Northern Pacific Railroad’s chief emigrant agent from 1871-1876, and the list goes on as to his accomplishments by and for his ethnicity.

Albertina (Mattson) Larson, a Swedish-Minnesotan originally from Willmar, MN.

Albertina (Mattson) Larson, a Swedish-Minnesotan originally from Willmar, MN.

With all that said, here are a couple photos of Albertina (Mattson) Larson, my great grandmother. I never had a chance to meet her in person, as she passed away before I was born. As a girl, she grew up in Willmar, Minnesota. Eventually my great grandfather, Hans T. Larson, got up the nerve to ask her to marry him, and they took up a homestead in northeastern Wells County, North Dakota (just north of the borderline historic archaeological town of Bremen, ND).

I’m sharing photos of Albertina for a couple reasons. The first is to make them accessible to other family members (it’s the worst when people hoard documents and artifacts while simultaneously doing nothing with them). There are unknown benefits, too, as perhaps this blog post will reach other Mattson family members who are interested in the various branches of the family. I do plan on ultimately curating the originals with the State Historical Society of North Dakota (but I’ll wait until the grand expansion is complete). By curating them with the SHSND (or any top-tier public archive), the artifacts will be stored in a safe spot with all sorts of fire-prevention and non-acidic devices (stuff along those lines). They will also be accessible to other family members, at least during SHSND archival hours. And if Swedish-American scholars want to have a look, to analyze and scrutinize them, they will be there. Perhaps they will even incorporate them into some piece of future scholarship. Who knows. Access is key, though.


Sitting Bull and the Government Shut Down

A photo I snapped while in D.C. in August 2013. It is of the National Archives. The inscription at bottom-right of the photo reads, "Study the Past."

A photo I snapped while in D.C. in August 2013. It is of the National Archives. The inscription at bottom-right of the photo reads, “Study the Past.”

Today, October 1st, 2013, the United States Government momentarily halted its business. Perhaps the best story I’ve read on this comes by way of Joshua Keating of Slate.com, and it takes the shut down as an opportune moment to describe how American media would report on this if the shut-down happened in a non-American, or non-Western, nation-state. It is enlightening. This is the first installment of the article. An excerpt from it, and a direct link if you click right here:

The capital’s rival clans find themselves at an impasse, unable to agree on a measure that will allow the American state to carry out its most basic functions. While the factions have come close to such a shutdown before, opponents of President Barack Obama’s embattled regime now appear prepared to allow the government to be shuttered over opposition to a controversial plan intended to bring the nation’s health care system in line with international standards…

…The current rebellion has been led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a young fundamentalist lawmaker from the restive Texas region, known in the past as a hotbed of separatist activity. Activity in the legislature ground to a halt last week for a full day as Cruz insisted on performing a time-honored American demonstration of stamina and self-denial, which involved speaking for 21 hours, quoting liberally from science fiction films and children’s books. The gesture drew wide media attention, though its political purpose was unclear to outsiders.

This story is fascinating for a number of reasons. To historians, it reminds me of how we are disciplined to develop histories of past societies by using the individual words of the people we are talking about. So, for example, yesterday around the graduate seminar table we got to talking about how the British mounty Walsh characterized Sitting Bull during the Hunkpapa chiefs short tenure north of the 49th parallel in Canada. Sitting Bull was thinking things over, and the Anglo-North American Walsh decided to refer to the chief as “Mohommet.”

I’m not sure how Walsh meant it, but it caused me to speak up and note that when Walsh called Sitting Bull “Mohommet,” it said more about Walsh than it ever could say about Sitting Bull: of course Sitting Bull was not Mohommet. Walsh hailed from Prescott, Onterio, though, and that was part of the St. Lawrence Seaway and The Atlantic World, and that world indeed was privy to imaginings of European Christiandom, and so on. This is why Walsh’s analogy is the most non-analogous attempted analogy in the history of analogies (okay, I’m exaggerating, but sometimes a person gets sucked into the amplified media craziness which, in turn, speaks to the point of this blog). Sitting Bull is Sitting Bull. He was by and for the Hunkpapa, the Seven Council Fires, the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, and the northern Great Plains. Period.

A gratuitous government shutdown photo, this snapped before the shutdown was known or talked about during a DC site visit in August 2013.

A gratuitous government shutdown photo, this snapped before the shutdown was known or talked about during a DC site visit in August 2013.

This is easily the same for today’s media, though, where reporters are given a couple minutes or hours to cobble together something on a non-American or non-Western topic, and make it vaguely intelligible for a news-absorbing public. Then we can all sit in our living rooms and either nod in approval or shake our heads in disagreement about what country we need to consider invading next. In the second half of the 19th century, this is what a reading public did on the east and west coasts of North America as they read about the actions taking place on the North American steppe. “What could possibly go wrong here!?” Right.

An aside on how Keating of Slate.com describes Ted Cruz, with addition: certainly Ted would be described this way if he were the reverse operating in Mesopotamia and Persia and the Levant (in a kind of opposite world, though). But the media would also say something like, “Ted Cruz is from the adjoining Christian country of Canada.” Then listeners of that media would sit in their living rooms and be mind-boggled at how one Christian could have different ideas in North America from another Christian. “Honey, get this: they don’t all think the same way! At least that’s what the news is saying… Should we order pizza tonight? Or go for Chinese?”

Anyhow, happy government shut down. I’ve rolled up my sleeves to get through it all.


Photos of the National Archives

I finished up what I needed to finish up at the National Archives in Washington, DC today, and I thought I’d post just a couple photos of this spectacular building. Within this building is an incredibly helpful and friendly staff, all of which is used to house and protect historical documents both foreign and domestic. These documents — hand-written memos, notes, and journals, and beyond — allow us insight into yesteryear, ever helping us develop a kind of deep culture and a philosophical and psychological connection and tension with the past. I’m glad my tax dollars go toward this institution. The hand-written docs I worked over today further humanized what we often read about in text books and historical narratives. I’ll try to remember to blog on those points later. For now, here are a couple photos.

East elevation of the National Archives.

East elevation of the National Archives.

Sipping on coffee and waiting for my documents to be retrieved with a bunch of dead Anglo-Americans in the basement cafe of the National Archives.

Sipping on coffee and waiting for my documents to be retrieved with a bunch of dead Anglo-Americans behind me, this in the basement cafe of the National Archives.

The 2nd floor reading room of the National Archives.

The 2nd floor reading room of the National Archives.