Pioneering the Upper Midwest Home Page

About the Collection

The online books in this digital collection are made up of the digitized page images and transcribed, searchable text of some of the books from the Library of Congress's General Collections and (in a few cases) its Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Each book is also described in a bibliographic record that links to the searchable text and page images. Users can look at the facsimile images of a book's pages to read it just as they would if they held the real book in their hands; or they can search or browse or read the book's text in its electronic transcription.

This collection starts from the recognition that digital technology offers uniquely powerful tools for exploiting the extensive holdings of regional, state and local history materials in the Library of Congress's General Collections. Following a digital collection of books on the early history of California, Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910 becomes the second installment in a virtual local history bookshelf that will bring some of these riches to students, teachers, scholars, and lifelong learners throughout the nation.

Although it contains matter enough for in-depth study of the history of any one of the states it covers, the collection was conceived with a regional focus. Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin each have fascinating individual histories, but they also have so much in common, both historically and geographically, that looking at them in relation to each other offers important perspectives on the experience of place, time and culture in North America. What sorts of primary sources can the Library's General Collections offer about the developing identity of an entire region, one that is both literally and figuratively central to the story of the nation's past? That is the question from which this digital collection grew.

Generous and enthusiastic financial support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation was the crucial component that made the collection possible. From the beginning, also, the collection was able to depend on the support of expert resources both inside and outside the Library. Once the Kellogg grant had guaranteed that the idea for the collection would become a reality, the selection of materials to be included began in earnest in 1995 under the guidance of the late Judith Austin, head of the Library's Local History and Genealogy Reading Room. Anne Toohey and Barbara Walsh, reference librarians, compiled an initial list of choices, which was refined and expanded with the expert advice of Richard Hulsey and Jane Ratner of the Willard Public Library in Battle Creek, Michigan; Michael Fox and Patrick Coleman of the Minnesota Historical Society; Ann Regan of the Minnesota Historical Society Press; and James Hensen of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Additional choices were made by Jurretta J. Heckscher, Steve McCollum, and Elisabeth H. Null, of the National Digital Library Program at the Library of Congress.

The major principle governing selection was the desire to reflect the character of local or regional history, generally through first-person accounts in as broad as possible a range of voices. Many of the volumes in the final selection meet this criterion. Yet it also became clear that other kinds of documents could also be valuable components of the digital collection: biographies, certain reference works, early ethnographic literature, promotional literature designed to entice settlers and travellers, even a book of cartoons. These too made their way into the collection. Finally, though the works included were all published between the early nineteenth and the early twentieth century, some were created much earlier. Around the turn of the twentieth century, all three state historical societies published compilations of older historical documents about the region's Native and colonial history. These offered a superb resource for deepening the collection's scope in topic and in time, and several volumes from these historical society serials have been chosen accordingly.

This digital collection has certain limitations, enforced by historical circumstances and practical necessities. A number of choices had to be ruled out because of copyright considerations. Only a handful of works published after 1920 could be included, and before 1920 the published record produced by the region's Native peoples, for example, is very small. Native Americans are therefore represented in the collection primarily through white peoples' eyes. Moreover, while the pre-1920 holdings of Upper Midwestern materials in the Library's General Collections are extensive, they cannot be regarded as absolutely comprehensive, and there are some identifiable gaps. One might wish, for example, for more books that reflect the importance of the Lutheran presence in the development of the region's religious identity, or more works reflecting the Cornish or Slovenian or Finnish or Croatian immigrant experience. The physical condition of some other books prevented their inclusion. Even under the best of circumstances, scanning subjects very fragile books to an unacceptable amount of stress, and it cannot capture the full images of pages that are very tightly bound. A few desirable volumes that fell into these categories had therefore to be excluded. Finally, this digital collection is a showcase for materials in the General Collections. The handful of Rare Book items included is a welcome bonus, but the shape of the collection should not be taken to represent the full range of relevant materials held by the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Pioneering the Upper Midwest Home Page