Dr. Kelley’s Notes

There is much to say about the transactions of the Agricultural History Society today, but it’s late in Stavanger now, and I’m too tired to think and write. So I may catch up tomorrow, or possibly the next day, as we take the train back to Oslo.

Here’s an interesting footnote to the day, however. This morning Dr. K and I were sitting in on the opening plenary of the society and I noticed her taking notes in her journal in a fine longhand. Surreptitiously I shot a short video reel of her note-taking and posted it to Instagram.

When I checked back in at end of day, the reel had racked up more than 100,000 views and more than 4,000 likes. Not sure what’s going on, but it seems Dr. Kelley is an influencer.

Growing Wild and Spraying Down

A long day, a good day, what we’re here for. Up early to get to UiS for opening sessions of the AHS. I presented at an ungodly time of the morning in the opening timeslot. All went well, I think; you can tell when people are engaged, even if it’s a group of mixed nationalities. I’m glad to have been part of what turned out to be a solid session. The other presenters were from Stavanger and Yale, the moderator from Bergen.

Dr. K and I did a full day of sessions. The presidential address, by Drew Swanson of Georgia Southern, was outstanding: “Growing Wild: Visions of Wildlife Management as Agricultural Science in American Forests and Fields.” Swanson has done books on the culture of hunting in America and on the environmental history of whitetail deer. Today he talked about how, with the closing of the frontier and the depletion of wildlife, the country entered into a period (1900 to 1940 or so) when there was a widespread effort to transform key game species–whitetail deer and ringneck pheasant were his main examples–into semi-domestic livestock, supplying both a conservation market for release into the wild and a culinary market for meat. This came on the heels of a “more-game” movement that emphasized multiplication of animals more than the conservation of habitat. The drive for agricultural management of game dissipated from the 1940s with, Swanson argues, the rise of a different sort of ethic in relation to wildlife, one that clearly separated wildlife and commerce.

I think maybe a couple of other things were at work, together and in sequence. First, there was the industrialization of meat production. Chicken, pork, and beef became so cheap and of such consisent quality that venison or pheasant seemed expensive and inconsistent. Second–and this certainly has accentuated in recent years–there came a neoliberal re-commodification of wildlife. The idea is, leave the game animals in the wild, but harvest revenue from them as objects of recreation for people with deep pockets. This is tied, in recent years, to the reduction of access to land for ordinary citizens.

More sessions of papers, supper with friends, then over to the Arkeologisk Museum for the evening lecture, by Bart Elmore: Seed Money: Monsanto’s Past and Our Food Future (a book talk from Elmore’s landmark work published by Norton). This was not a feel-good event. More about this subject perhaps another time.

Dr. K has settled in to do NDSU Press business for I don’t know how long tonight. I’m sitting in the lobby of our posh hotel, catching up on communications, and wondering whether I can get away with bringing an aquavit out here from the hotel bar. Wish me luck.

Not Just the Aquavit Talking

After a full and thought-provoking day of museums yesterday, we took today to get our feet under us preparatory to the beginning of the AHS conference at the UiS tomorrow. We scouted the bus route, located the facilities, assured ourselves we could navigate the scene–and then came back downtown to do some shopping in the old town. Some rest was in order. Also, Dr. K insisted I should read through my paper, which I am presenting at an 8am session tomorrow.

Not sure how many scholarly papers I have presented at conferences over the years–surely more than a hundred. So I suspect Dr. K fears I may take the occasion too casually. It is always good to make sure that those words you wrote actually will come out of your mouth without stumbling. I thought I would have some friends planted in the room for this presentation, but the two closest ones from back home on the prairies are both presenting in other sessions scheduled concurrently! I really don’t mind them missing my paper–they surely have heard enough from me–but I regret missing theirs. Anyway, it was good to read through my text and remind myself (and get Dr. K’s assurance) that the thing made sense.

A paper on climate change on the Great Plains, more specifically the effects of the Little Ice Age on human developments–spanning a half-millennium in fifteen minutes–what can I do with that? It is what you might call a think piece. I’m in the foundational stage of writing a new history of the Great Plains, trying to do for the twenty-first century what Walter Prescott Webb did for the twentieth–make sense of the region in the middle of North America. My intention is to be not merely synthetic, pulling together what is known. I hope to establish new habits of thought about the land. To do this, in addition to mastering a library of literature, I need to do a lot of thinking, in ways not so much grounded in that literature as launching from it. To push myself to do that thinking, I will be generating a bunch of half-baked papers for presentation, begging indulgence while I think out loud.

For although if you know me, you will have heard me speak irreverently of the personalities, folkways, and vagaries of academic life; and although much of my writing has pushed into the realm of literary nonfiction, eschewing the fullness of scholarly apparatus; I nevertheless still believe in sholarship, try to live the life of a scholar, and keep the company of scholars. Thus I desire conversation with that company about the line of work on which I am embarking. Maybe the company will teach me things. Maybe I’m just covering my flank. But I’m willing to confess what I’m doing, and it’s not just the aquavit talking. Good night, Stavanger.

Opportunity Cost

Morning in Stavanger was catch-up–Dr. K doing press business, me sorting out university correspondence–and so it was early afternoon before we set out for historic sites on the town. However nerdy this may sound, we both really wanted to call in at the Norsk Hermetik Museum, the Norwegian canning museum, because we read that on Tuesdays they fire up the ovens and process sprats, and you can sample sardines right from the racks. Which I did, but Dr. K declined, so I ate two of them. The exhibits on canning featured interesting technological artifacts, which I studied because the technology was applicable to the transportation of oysters out to the prairies in the nineteenth century, something I have been writing about in Plains Folk.

Dr. K was tickled to find that the Norsk Hermetik Museum is co-located in the old cannery with the Norsk Grafisk Museum, the Norwegian museum of design and printing. (The joint museum operates under the name Iddis.) She got pretty absorbed in all that while I was nosing through the canning stuff, and I suspect she will be posting some photos.

After this we made our way across the harbor and around the point to the Norsk Oljemuseum, the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. The history of the rise of offshore drilling in the North Sea since 1969 is well-known and is pivotal to the emergence of the Norway as we know it in the twenty-first century. By the time we got to the museum my phone was dead, so we’ll have to rely on Dr. K for photos, but in retrospect I’m rather glad I was unable to take pictures and so was focused on comprehending the exhibit material. Which was massive, and comprised an astonishing collection of modern artifacts, along with a reef of models and media. I cannot do justice to it all. I can, however, tell you the effect it had on me emotionally and intellectually.

Beginning at the end–I concluded that this museum could not happen in America. It is so dense, and the discourse so elevated, that consultants and designers would never buy in. The simple volume of information is challenging, but the ideas, the human values wrapped up in the technological issues, are daunting. I think if a museum studies class were to tour the Norst Oljemuseum, the scholars would say, this is too much; it all must be simplified, dumbed down, and perhaps made less disturbing. And yet the museum was full of people actively engaging its content. It is a conviction of mine that those of us who trade in intellectual content for public consumption must challenge and elevate ourselves and our audiences. The Norst Oljemuseum is doing this. Could it be done in America? Would it be tolerated in America?

Because the content is not just serious, it is critical. The Norst Oljemuseum initiates the sort of conversations we never have had in North Dakota: the relationship between resource extraction and the public good; the human gain and cost for persons on the front lines of extraction; the long-term effects of short-term profit. In Norway, the petroleum industry is state enterprise. The industry itself has initiated these deeper conversations. It is all rather breath-taking.

As a citizen of North Dakota, and a scholar of the plains, I came away from the Norst Oljemuseum informed, stimulated, and disturbed. I came away with a deep sense of opportunity squandered. As the Bakken Boom unfolded, we often preached from the text of our prior experience with resource booms–in America. We have paid for our parochiality. We might have done much better. It is possible that the same deficiencies in our society and nation that would make it impossible to have something like the Norst Oljemuseum also made it impossible to deal competently with our situation on the ground.

Wergelandsparken

Oh my, the story of the Vigeland Wergeland (say that five times fast) just got more complicated. We all know about the magnificent statue of Henrik Wergeland, Norway’s great Romantic poet, that stands in Island Park of Fargo. Those of us who read inscriptions know that the bronze was made by Gustaf Vigeland, Norway’s great monumental sculptor. An artist befitting the subject, and vice versa. A few days ago, touring the Vigeland Museum in Oslo, I was excited to espy the plaster cast of Wergeland from Vigeland’s studio–thus anchoring for my mind the trans-Atlantic connection at both ends. Now it appears we have a triangle on our hands.

For today, In Kristiansand, the place of Wergeland’s birth, we stumbled into Wergenslandparken, and here is what we saw! An identical Vigeland Wergeland! Back into the website of the Vigeland Museum, searching out some now-disconnected pages, I find this exposition.

So it was Vigeland’s idea there should be a monument to Wergeland in his home town, and somehow, at about the same time, he made a dup to be emplaced in Fargo, North Dakota. How did this connection happen? I know that Dr. Herman O. Fjelde of Abercrombie was involved in securing the statue for Fargo. How did he know this was even a possibility? On return home, I’ll investigate this.

We’ve gotten interested enough in Wergeland–not only his stature as a literary figure but also his zeal for human rights–that we want to visit his grave in Vår Frelsers Gravlund of Oslo. We’ll be back in that city in a week or so, arriving in evening by train to catch a plane home the next morning. Presuming the trains run on time, we figure we have time to race over to the cemetery, pay our respects at dusk, and examine the memorial placed on Wergeland’s grave by the Jewish community in recognition of his work on their behalf.

In the meantime, tomorrow noon we catch our train for Stavanger, where in a few days we join the annual conference of the Agricuiltural History Society. Today, when we called in at the Sørlandets Kunstmuseum of Kristiansand, we were privileged to view a remarkable artifact: the Maisengel (corn angel), which was included in a retrospective exhibit. I take this as a blessing for the upcoming meeting of agricultural scholars.

Smör

Gray dawn, and I awoke with no idea where I was. I don’t think it was the Opland aquavit I had for a nightcap. It was the strange dream that had visited me, and from which I fully emerged on waking only after giving my head a vigorous shake.

The dreamy situation was a prairie town, somewhere, probably on the North American continent, but I’m not certain. Its name, no kidding, was Alice. As in Alice, the famous object of reference for the I-94 Buffalo-Alice exit sign in North Dakota, but also, of course, the famous ideal of Nevil Shute’s outback novel, A Town Like Alice. I know them both well. So I’ll just let Alice float somewhere.

Alice had a country store peopled by an ensemble of characters, some of whom ran the place, while the others came and went and conversed. The store functioned as a sort of community development agency. People came in to talk about and work out the problems of the community, some of which were things, and others were people. The people-problems seemed to reside mainly at the other main establishment of the town, a tavern. People kept talking about what was going on over there, and I kept mum, because in my dream-memory, I was well acquainted with the tavern and its denizens.

The Alice store was also a sort of museum, with artifacts there among the merchandise. Moreover, people kept coming in to show me stuff and ask about it. I wish I could recall all the things they brought me, but the only one I remember was a calf blab, like the one hanging on the wall of the museum in Dunn Center, North Dakota. And there was food, too, baked goods I was munching while chatting about matters antiquarian.

It surprised me when I observed evening was falling. I realized I had gone off to this place without telling Dr. K where I would be, and she would be worried by now. When I emerged into the twilight, I could not find my truck. I wandered for some time, until finally I walked out of the town and found my truck parked along a dirt road. When I started it up and tried to pull away, I found the road blocked by a stretch gate. There emerged from the brush alongside the road a rustic character, whom I think I had met in town. He insisted that I walk with him to see his orchard. After that he walked me back to my truck and opened the gate for me.

As I was driving away from Alice, I awoke. Confused. Also relieved. Then happy to realize that I was in the Hotel Norge, Kristiansand, and that downstairs there were coffee and a Norwegian breakfast buffet awaiting. Sweet.

Caffeinated, I picked up a plate and started in at the end of the groaning board. And there it was, in its place of primacy–smör, a crock of butter. Along with several hearty loaves of grainy bread from which to carve the foundation of your breakfast. Life should be like this. And end with a raspberry tort.

Zzzz

Spending early morning in Oslo catching up on communications and confirmations. On to Kristiansand tonight – working our way toward the AHS conferencre in Stavanger. Hiking, museuming (musing? museumizing?), reading, writing along the way. Gorgeous weather (about to change). Eating well. Sleep habits irregular. . . .

Lincoln in Oslo

Spent most of yesterday in and around Frogner Park–first going through the Vigeland Museum, then wandering for hours among the sculptures in the park, sustained only by key lime pie and coffee from the park cafe. I am at a loss to describe the extent and effect of these works of Gustaf Vigeland. Maybe later. For now, I offer some observations about two direct connections between Oslo and our home in North Dakota.

First, among the exhibits in the Vigiland Museum are numerous plaster casts for works destined to be rendered in stone or bronze and emplaced elsewhere. In a corner stands Henrik Wergeland, Norway’s great romantic poet, as fashioned by Vigeland. This took me by surprise, although it should not have. Immediately I realized that this was the plaster version for the bronze Vigeland would have cast for Island Park, Fargo; it stands there still.

The second thing we went looking for. In 2014 Governor Louis B. Hanna of North Dakota traveled to Oslo to dedicate a bust of Lincoln in Frogner Park. The bust of Lincoln was a gift from the people of North Dakota, as duly authorized by the legislative assembly, to the people of Norway in celebration of the centennial of their independence from the tyrannous Swedes. Hanna, as befitting a leader of the Progressive Era, loved monuments. Moreover, there were political overtones, for Hanna, a Republican, delivered the casting of Lincoln, founder of his party, to the people of Norway, immigrants from which comprised a substantial part of the voting population of the state of North Dakota. And yet the journey, and the gift, transcended politics. They spoke to a common love of liberty, the kinship of peoples of good will. This is why during the Second World War, the Lincoln monument in Frogner Park was a gathering place and symbol of hope for the Resistance.

Here stands Lincoln today. God willing, this monument will again become a symbol of liberty and hope across oceans and borders.

Morning in Oslo

We’re lodging in the hotel at the central railroad station, which is just about perfect for our needs and preferences. Ordinarily central city would not be my comfort situation, but it’s Oslo. Passage here: trans-Atlantic was a breeze, some discomfiture with getting bookings settled at our Amsterdam connection, and then, arriving Oslo Lufthavn, totally chill. Convenient fast train in to Oslo Sentral. A walkabout last night, with the obligatory ascent of the Operahuset for a look around, thence around the quay to a food truck-bar complex to grab a bite of supper, hang out, and read. Up in the night with old-guy leg cramps, which disturbed Dr. Kelley’s sleep, so she’s lying in this morning. While I work out, write a review, and graze the breakfast buffet. Excellent coffee, of course.

Not sure what Dr. K will propose for the day’s itinerary, but I think we need to get over to Frogner Park and see the Fjelde bust of Lincoln that Governor Hanna sent over and that became such an important symbol of Norwegian resistance during the Second World War. I’m sure sometime during the day we’ll settle in somewhere for reading and writing.

Speaking of which, I did finish my paper for presentation in a few days in Stavanger, and found myself channeling Bernie DeVoto by resorting to synecdoche. I know that’s a wonky literary term, but it just means deploying a representative and symbolic personage or episode in order to represent a larger and complicated subject. In this case, the larger and complicated subject is the changing climate (Little Ice Age to the modern, warming era of the Holocene) and the difficulty understanding it while experiencing it. Late in the paper I home in on 1886, the perilous pinnacle of the range cattle industry on the northern plains, to argue that the cattle kings assumed continuity of the LIA regime of cold, open winters favorable for over-wintering livestock, but in fact, the warming climatic regime was set to deliver disastrously snowy winters. In that year the Motana stockman John Lepley penned a ballad, “The Cattle King’s Prayer,” imploring the Almighty for “Italian skies and little snow.” I will sing his ballad. It’s a good one.

Is this sort of literary touch acceptable in a scholarly paper presentation? I know it will go over fine; I’ve done this sort of thing before. It will come as a surprise to the international scholars among us, but there will be anough old friends present to warm the reception. Dr. K says this is unfair. I’m seventy years old, and I don’t care. I also believe there is enough fresh substance in my interpretive paper to carry it.

Now, before Dr. K emerges and we organize our recon of historic points of interest in the city, I’m turning back to the buffet and to Randall Parish’s 1907 history, The Great Plains: The Romance of Western American Exploration, Warfare, and Settlement, 1527-1870. Organizing a review of it for Plains Folk. Good morning.

To Stavanger

High summer in North Dakota–so naturally, we’re getting ready to leave the country. Tuesday we fly to Norway to tour around a bit and attend an academic meeting–the annual conference of the Agricultural History Society, in Stavanger, 4-6 August. We’ll fly into Oslo, there to see some sights, thence to Kristiansand, where we hope the sun shines. After that we board a train for Stavanger, and at conclusion of the conference, we’ll also take the train back to Oslo.

It’s 1:00am, and Dr. Kelley is still hard at work on a project for NDSU Press. She needs to get this book to the designer before we leave in order to keep to production schedule. She already has pulled one all-nighter on it. Me, I just a few minutes ago finished a draft of the paper I am to present in Stavanger: “A Radical Misapprehension: Reckoning with Climate Change on the Great Plains of North America.” I’ll give more details later. For now I’ll just say, the argument is that major human developments on the plains–the rise of village farmer peoples on the northern plains, the acquisition of horses and emergence of Plains Indians as pastoral peoples, the rapid rise and fall of the range cattle industry, and agricultural settlement by EuroAmericans–all were enabled by the advent, duration, and conclusion of the Little Ice Age.

It’s been a full summer, and lately, we’ve been pushing hard, so we’re both looking forward to the trip. And, believe it or not, looking forward to the transactions of the conference. Because of the venue, the attendees will not be just the usual suspects. Oh, we’ll see old and good friends, but also meet quite a few new ones. With maybe some new ideas. The quality of work at the AHS conference typically is remarkably high.

We’ll be packing some work along, but Dr. Kelley promises to relax now and then while we’re gone. I hope so. Although I find myself packing a number of short writing projects, and I’ll have to log on via Chromebook and work on getting my fall courses in order.

Rest now.