Prof pens history of Minnesota

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cover of Mary Wingerd's May 2010 book

Cover of Mary Wingerd's May 2010 book "North Country: The Making of Minnesota."

Mary Wingerd addresses a standing-room-only crowd in the Heffelfinger Room at the Minnesota History Center, St. Paul Cover of Mary Wingerd's May 2010 book  

Mary Wingerd's "North Country: The Making of Minnesota" is a fresh take on the founding of Minnesota that examines the state's multicultural, multiracial origins from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century.

The associate professor of history gave a May 12 talk at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul to promote the 448-page book, which is expected to arrive on bookshelves later this month.

The book was commissioned by the University of Minnesota Foundation and published by University of Minnesota Press.

Wingerd's next appearance is a presentation and book signing 7:30 p.m. June 24 at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis.

"North Country" describes a racially and culturally hybridized society based on intermarriage, kinship and the fur trade. Cooperation and reciprocity were key dynamics in the interpersonal and commercial relations among Ojibwe, Dakota, Europeans and Americans, according to Wingerd.

Joseph "Jack" Frazer personifies life in the "borderlands," Wingerd's metaphor for the two-century long encounter between Indians and Euro-Americans.

Frazer was the son of a Dakota woman and a Scottish trader. When he lived with his father Frazer dressed as a white, spoke English and received some schooling. When he lived with his mother he dressed as an Indian and spoke Dakota. He was known as Jack to some and Ite Maza or Iron Face to others.

"It's a central concept of the book that ideas about race are incredibly fluid and unfixed," Wingerd said. "Remember, you have all these people of mixed ancestry and it didn't matter if you were European or African-American or Indian or mixed ancestry -- the way people sorted you out was by how you dressed, by what kind of customs you observed."

Nearly two centuries of cooperation began unraveling in the mid-19th century when exploitation became the key dynamic. In short, Euro-Americans' exploitation of timber and land did not require partnering with Indians, according to Wingerd.

That exploitation spawned the state's most bloody period, the 1862 war in southwestern Minnesota that caused hundreds of deaths and prompted the exile of nearly every Dakota man, woman and child.

History enthusiasts will appreciate the book's attention to detail, including 155 illustrations and 17 maps.  

Wingerd also authored "Claiming the City: Politics, Faith, and the Power of Place in St. Paul," published in 2003 by Cornell University Press.

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