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Oft Maligned, Historical Knowledge May be Way to the Future

May 1, 2015Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Oft Maligned, Historical Knowledge May be Way to the Future

Nearly everyone has a favorite “I hated history class” story.  It may have been a high school teacher who focused only on facts, or a college professor who was only interested in their esoteric little bit of the world.  Whatever the case, when I tell people I work on Mississippi River history, I often get “Oh, I hated history.”

Steve Elliott, the director of the Minnesota Historical Society, would seem to be playing into this disparagement with the title of his May 7 Thursdays at Four talk “The Future of History: Would You Like Fries with That?”  It would be unwise to sell Elliott’s perspective short, however.  Since assuming the helm of one of the state’s oldest organizations, he has made it a 21st century leader among the state’s cultural organizations and, once again, a strong player in some of the state’s most important conversations.

As one example, the Society’s treatment of the sesquicentennial of the 1862 Dakota War had depth, subtlety, and addressed a very broad range of issues.  The impacts of this war still resonate strongly in the region of the state where it was fought, as well as throughout the Dakota native community, which has seen a widespread diaspora from the state as a result of the war and the genocidal policies that accompanied it.  These are not easy matters to navigate, and the Society has not done a perfect job of its treatment. But it has not skirted the complexity, either.

On a more focused note, Society sites such as Mill City Museum are leaders in neighborhood community development, programming, and community visioning.   Mill City Museum opened an exhibit last night on the history and people of Bohemian Flats, a now-vanished community along the Mississippi River, on the west bank, across from the University of Minnesota campus.  Speakers at the opening celebration rightly pointed out that this attention to immigration and workers and their role in the city over a century ago resonates strongly with public debates taking place currently.

So while it may be true that “Would you like fries with that?” is a pertinent question for current history majors, for those with the skills, imagination, and ambition to have their work reach the public and affect its thinking, a better professional question may be “What stories shall we tell now, in terms of the impact we know we’ll have?”

Learn more: Thursdays at Four program, Steve Elliott, Director, Minnesota Historical Society, Thursday May 7, 4:00, Tom and Ellie Crosby Seminar Room, Northrop Memorial Auditorium.


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