All posts by Macnab

“We have great work yet to do”

What a fantastic week.

I’m having fun digging through and organizing my sources into their respective niches. It seems like the more I search the more I discover just how essential the production and consumption of food was to this little corner of America. And the more I discover food as essential to the identity of Stevens County, the more I realize just how influential women were in keeping the darn thing running. Now, I’m no stranger to gendered history. In fact, most of my academic research has been conducted through a gendered lens, but the extent to which women both as prominent figures and as rank and file dominated the community during World War I is astonishing. One figure in particular, Ida F. Hancock, was instrumental to the war effort. Mrs. Hancock was the Madam Chairman of the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Public Safety Commission for Stevens County and was responsible for tasks such as “Americanization, food conservation, child welfare, and various special subjects having to do with the financing of the war.” What initially struck me about Mrs. Hancock, other than the enormous amount of letters she left to posterity, was the vigor with which she pursued every wartime cause. Her stamp and signature could be seen on letters reprimanding soldiers on leave for offensive behavior — it didn’t matter if it was  promiscuous remarks made to young women, or if they consumed too much fat at a local diner — she made it be know that their transgressions were detrimental to the war effort. Yes, this is deferential politics on the surface. BUT, towards the end of the war we start to see a dramatic shift within the writings of Mrs. Hancock, coinciding with the suffragist movement. That’s all I’ll say for now, but come back in about two weeks and check out the site for more on the role of women in Steven’s County. On that note I’ll sign off with what Mrs. Hancock said best: “we have great work yet to do.”

Getting back on track

It’s been an exceptionally difficult semester thus far, but complaining won’t do me any good. I’ve been visiting the SCHS lately to finish going through all of the boxes they have on the various crop yields during the war, and it’s all coming together fairly nicely. Five organizations in particular will be the focus of my responsibilities on the site.

1) Stevens County Farm Bureau Association. Primary documents such as pamphlets, newsletters, bulletins, as well as yield data for the seasonal harvest will be my main concerns.

2) Non-Partisan League activities will be covered. This includes efforts to modernize grain equipment so as to maximize wheat yield for the war effort.

3) United States Food Administration policies and subsequent implementation by community members. These will include nationwide pamphlets that were distributed to Steven’s County residents to, once again, maximize efficiency when it came to producing wheat.

4) Resources from the War Garden Commission. Multiple groups formed in response for the need of dried and canned food.

5) Voices of the Great War section. This section will be devoted to the documents produced by residents within Stevens County during WWI. Thus far these will include, but are not limited to, diary entries, newspaper collage clippings, and profiles on prominent members within the community.


I’m extremely excited about putting together the site. There’s still a lot to do, but I feel like once we get rolling it’ll all come together rather quickly. Moreover, I’m particularly excited about trying to implement a few features that I’ve come across in my search for grad schools.


The link comes from Brian Sarnacki’s blog. Sarnacki is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln specializing in digital humanities and urban history.


More to come tomorrow! Stay tuned, folks.

Study Abroad in England

This past semester I studied abroad at University of London, Queen Mary. I had a blast, and thought I would share some snapshots of my time there. In completing the timeline I did realize just how clean and neat some of these web design features are becoming, in contrast to the wordpress site I had to manage as a junior in high school. Yet while the media comes across as neat and compartmentalized, I don’t think it will be of very much use other than for simple renderings of simple information. West Central Minnesota is an odd place—one defined by its remoteness under the usually expansive blue sky. The remoteness of Stevens County, especially in the early 20th century can not be understated. Thus, in order to really capture the essence of this special region I think an interactive map would be much more efficient to use. Yes, I should have made one instead. But this was more fun. :)

Food and Fuel

As of yet, both Britta and I have a decent amount of both primary and secondary sources to work with. I’ll start off with some information from Britta and then I’ll provide my own process so far.

From Britta:

Hey there, Britta here, taking over for a few paragraphs. The main focus for my portion of the site is going to be the West Central School of Agriculture. I’m absolutely fascinated by the campus culture of the time period and how the war affected these agricultural students studying out on the prairie of western Minnesota. I am really interested in cause and effect—how the war happening in Europe affected this small campus community in Western Minnesota and likewise, how the campus’ response affected student and staff relationships and the greater Morris community. As you read above, Colm and I are really shooting to create our website with a focus on highlighting certain aspects of our research first and then leading into in-depth detail from that. Generally speaking, I’d like a first page to give brief overviews of WCSA history, the war effort in Morris, and the Spanish Influenza, with a lead in to another page that goes into much more detail regarding how all of these connected at WCSA. I probably will end up wanting a few different pages of in depth detail, though I’ll get to thinking more about that once I have all of my sources complied. I have a vague idea in my head of what this could look like; I’m not yet quite sure what Colm and I can accomplish technology-wise with this website, so I haven’t  planned out anything that is too detailed yet.

Currently, I have a lot of information on the Spanish Influenza. The 1919 Moccasin (The WCSA yearbook) has been a fantastic source regarding how the student’s reacted to the influenza; two ledger books from the 1918-1919 school year filled with faculty meeting minutes and newsletters that were sent out to parents give a clear picture of how the administration was reacting to the epidemic. Information regarding campus contributions to the war efforts is also present in both the yearbook and the ledger books, though there is a lot more on the epidemic in each. I have plenty of information on the campus history and both of the primary source materials that I have now give a pretty clear idea of the campus culture of the time period.

I have a lot of information so far, but not enough. I still need to give the Stevens County Museum in town a call to see if they have any WCSA materials that might be useful there. I want to make sure my portion of the site has enough detail to feel complete, and I certainly don’t believe that I am to that point yet. I may be able to find a bit more at the archives if I really dig, but I’m getting to the point where digging around is no longer conducive to my time; I have a feeling the museum archives will be much easier to navigate.  Regardless,  I certainly feel a little bit better in having a very rough outline of what our website will ultimately look like, even if it doesn’t seem like that much right now.

Now me:

I have come into contact with a few secondary sources detailing the impact WWI had on the residents of Stevens County, MN. These sources come from the Stevens County Historical Society and are typically concerned with how local communities came together in order to produce materials needed for the young men fighting in Europe. As Stevens County has, and still is, primarily an agrarian society devoted to producing foodstuffs for the rest of America, many of these articles are concerned with producing enough food for those at the front lines, while simultaneously suggesting that those back home eat smaller portions and let nothing go to waste. These sources are quite useful as a starting point because of the sources they cite. By no means is it appropriate to rely entirely upon the information gathered by the SCHS, but it will prove fruitful to examine their methodology as a way to gain a more intimate understanding of the sources they used in coming to their conclusion, as well as the current perceptions Stevens County has about its past.

I have also been fortunate in obtaining primary source material at the WCHS, as well as the local library. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post the WCHS recently displayed WWI artifacts such as topographic maps, war trophies, diaries, photographs, and other useful materials. What caught my attention in particular were the propaganda posters aimed at women, men, and children. In viewing these posters (which I am currently not yet allowed to photograph, working on that at the moment) I noticed a thread tying them together—increased production and decreased consumption in response to the needs of those fighting at the front. I found these to be particularly resonant with even the culture of West Central Minnesota today. Propaganda pieces persuading women to can and dry food so as to ensure maximum wartime production, posters persuading young children to eat every last bite and posters persuading young, able men to leave the farm and go fight were the most recurring of propaganda I observed. There were, of course, a lot of posters not touching on those themes. As such, I want to limit my research to respond to three things:
What themes of propaganda were aimed at those living in West Central Minnesota? (I am aware propaganda wasn’t aimed that specifically, but I have yet to discover where those zones end and begin)
Who was in charge of dispersing and disseminating propaganda? (Even beyond the form of posters and into fundraisers, charity drives, that sort of thing)
How groups reacted to that propaganda? (I realize this last bit may prove too difficult to do, but my intentions are to use statistical methodology so as to determine standard deviation, residual standard data, and r-squared calculations to give me a rough outline.)
I am going to use microfilm of newspapers at the time found at the library, as well as Britta’s findings at the archive to cross reference my hypothesis. Even if I am absolutely, totally wrong in my hypothesis I should (hopefully) be able to make sense of a theme somewhere in the sources and data.

Britta and I are in the early staged of determining what we want the site to look like, but have some ideas. A good indicator of how we want the site to display information can be found here ( The data on global change is bifurcated into two parts, one detailing the highlights of their findings while the other goes into the nitty gritty details of the report itself. This is, more or less, the clean modern look aimed at presenting our findings in an easily understandable manner while also giving our readers the option of viewing our findings in full. Of course our in depth report and findings will be prioritized over the highlights (this is a history project, after all) but given the fast-paced nature of data delivery for sites like Reddit, Facebook, Tumblr, etc., we thought this was a good way to catch attention. We know we want to start with an interactive map detailing Stevens County. We find the map to be a more viable option given the manageable amount of data we have on our hands. If this were a more densely populated region it might be easier to segment into a timeline, but because most communities were agriculturally based rural areas we wanted to display that information effectively by showing how those communities came together and what they produced.


Provincial Things

Hello, and welcome back.

As of right now I’m more worried about the plethora of information at my fingertips than a lack of it. Having visited the Stevens County Historical Society today I can safely say there will be no shortage of both primary and secondary source material to scrounge around for in the archives.


Books, topographical maps, shaving items, full infantry packs, and diaries comprise but a few of the items I found in the archives during my three hour adventure today. The SCHS, in honor of Memorial Day, recently devoted a substantial portion of their exhibits to showcasing WW1 memorabilia and artifacts. Moreover, they have even produced a 40 minute documentary on how the citizens of Stevens County were affected by one of the deadliest wars of all time. This is extremely helpful in that I’ve essentially been given a crash course, more or less, in the general themes dominating the experience of men and women, young and old, throughout West Central Minnesota. However, as historians round the world continually cry: “it’s always more complex!”


I have a predisposition for items telling a significant yet often overlooked story. My junior year I ended up focusing on double edged safety razors and their impact on perceived notion of femininity in the early to mid 20 century. Given the large amount of items I have at my disposal I can’t imagine not pursing a similar path. Unfortunately I’m waiting on approval from the curator to dig through the archives, but these initial exhibits prove promising.


I’ve also spent some time at the local library looking through microfilm of the Morris Tribune just before war broke out. The initial findings here prove to be promising as well. Unfortunately I have not yet narrowed my scope and thus have nothing of real substantial value to offer here.


My partner, Britta, has spent a significant time in the campus archive and I would direct you to her blog to see what she’s found so far.


All in all I’m pleased with the initial findings and can’t wait to move forward with the process!


Welcome to Nowhere

My name is Colm Macnab and I’m a senior at the University of Minnesota, Morris. I’m a History major and will (hopefully/probably?) be graduating this semester with a bachelor of the arts as well as a minor in English. The town I live in, Morris, is incredibly small. In fact, the only two stoplights in the entire county are located here and they’re right after one another. We have a liquor store and three bars, which I suppose is something. Everything closes after 11 except for the 24/7 Casey’s down the road. It’s simple here. You know pretty much everyone by name and they know everything you’ve done in your time here. Not much has changed in the last 100 years, except for 24/7 pizza.


The midwest is a fascinating place to live. The plentiful land, space, and food our section of the country has to offer is by no means insignificant or unworthy of academic interest. True, the midwest is often referred to as the “armpit of America” and more commonly referenced in social media as a place to escape before your mid-twenties. Thus, some may find the social and geographic composition of the midwest to be suffocating. However, these are the characteristics I find so endearing when I think of the sea of grass currently rinsed with snowfall. The close communal ties here have long been a Minnesotan tradition, and that is what I aim to illuminate throughout the course of this project. My aim is to showcase how West-Central Minnesotans perceived their role in the war through diaries and the things they carried. I’m sure it’ll be a wild ride.