Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Northwest History in Unusual Places

There is nothing I like better than finding a new archive of local history--particularly when it isn't local.

Last week I tweeted a question about European museums with collections of North American Indian cultural objects. (For a possible grant proposal, I am looking for items from Plateau tribes that were collected and taken to Europe--but that is another blog post.)  Matt Shaw suggested I look at Europeana.eu, a portal to multiple European archives.

I have not found many native objects yet, but a search for Spokane turns up over 60 records!

Ole S. Weiberg, 1910
This should not surprise us. Spokane was founded as a frontier town in an era of high European immigration to the United States. The early census records for Spokane show scores of Germans, Finns, Danes, Balkans, and other Europeans. Of course they sent letters and photographs and postcards home, and of course some of these ended up in archives. Europeana.eu makes it possible to find some of these objects. Here are a few of my favorites:

This photograph is not that evocative, but the description is full of local information. From the Norwegian via Google Translate:

Description: From the USA. Letter to Severinbrauta: "Spokane, 24.07.1910. A passion greeting from Spokane, is fresh, everything well. Has amenable their letters, is very easily discovered, to write letters when it gets a bit colder, osb Warmly greeted everyone. My Address is: 1007 West 5th Av .. From Ole S. Weiberg.

The translation could be better, but this is still a rare glimpse into the life of early Spokane immigrant. A quick Google reveals that Weiberg died in 1944 and is buried in Greenwood Memorial Terrace.

This postcard is captioned "North Channel, Upper Falls, Spokane, Washington." I have not seen this image before.

The provenance and Spokane connection to this one is a little tenuous. The translated caption idetifies this woman as Marie Lyche Halseth, "mistress of Knut Halseth (f.1860)... who was called "Gold Knut" when he did so well during the gold rush there, moreover he was a trapper."

This guy was pretty well-known in his day. Google Translate: "1898 was Olaus Jeldness winner in the "Canadian Chapionship" to jump and "The Ski Race." Note the skis that are made of oak and ganasjane ... He died in Spokane, WA... Olaus was the largest ski pioneer in Canada and North America. Much discussed in the book "The Ski Race" by Sam Wormington." Here is his biography at the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame.

This makes a point that I have made before: The digital turn is having a far greater effect on the writing of local history than of any other field of historical endeavor. Digitizing records may not teach us anything new about George Washington and his Farewell Address. The relevant documents are well-known and well-analyzed and have been so for generations. But for a relatively under-researched place like Spokane, with historic records scattered across the land, this is a revolution in our understanding.

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