Does accessing history mean leafing through stacks of ancient books in dusty libraries? Not unless you’re passing the pandemic watching “National Treasure” for the umpteenth time.
History museums and research libraries are still closed, but there’s a lot of knowledge to access through their online databases.
“We have a lot of great resources for people wanting to learn more about Minnesota history, with many resources specific to school-age learners, and other resources perfect for adults and families,” notes Jessica Kohen, public relations manager with the Minnesota Historical Society.
“One item that was created for school-age learners, but that is great for adults and families too, is our award-winning 'Northern Lights' interactive eBook which we have made free for everyone through June 30,” Kohen said.
“Northern Lights” is a personal favorite of Kohen, as are back issues of "Minnesota History" magazine, with volumes dating back over a century and touching on all sorts of Minnesota history.
“As for adult learners, MNopedia is a fantastic encyclopedia of people, places, events and things in Minnesota history,” Kohen said. (Just type in your town’s name, and you will discover a number of historical facts.) “New articles are added every week,” Kohen said.
Dave Nichols, curator at the Scott County Historical Society has his own MNHS favorite. “One of the things I have really been enjoying lately is the Minnesota Historical Society’s ‘History at Home’ site. It’s on their website and is great for casual research or if you just want to learn something new,” he said.
While the MNHS Gale Family Library is closed through at least June 30, researchers can travel to the past by reading some of the state’s newspapers, scanned and posted online, dating back to the 1850s. (There are also a few other remote research options available, and questions can be sent to society librarians via email.)
The Minnesota Historical Society has the most vast online resources in the state. However locally there are websites and social media channels to explore, via the Carver County and Scott County historical societies, as well as local historical societies, such as the Shakopee Heritage Society and the Chaska Historical Society.
“Don’t just look at it, dig into it,” said Wendy Petersen-Biorn, executive director of the Carver County Historical Society, of www.carvercountyhistoricalsociety.org. “It’s meant to be explored and it’s meant to be a resource,” she said.
One of Petersen-Biorn’s favorite elements linked on the Carver County Historical Society website is a map overlay, where viewers can see how the landscape has evolved over the years. It provides “real-time history on how things are, and how the topography has changed,” she said.
There are a number of other elements Petersen-Biorn recommends, including the newspaper index, which includes abstracts from local newspaper articles going back to the 1800s; and a photo database, which is accessible without CCHS membership through the end of May.
At the Scott County Historical Society, most of its artifact collection can be viewed at mncollections.org, Nichols said. (Currently its photograph collection is being processed.)
“We also have a surname index on our website to do some limited obituary research from home,” he said.
The historical societies are also active on social media. “We have a bi-weekly email blast that we do, people can sign up on our website to stay up-to-date on what is going on with the SCHS, and we are doing daily history posts on Facebook to be able to stay engaged with the community so we encourage people to follow us there as well,” Nichols said.
Getting antsy to go outside?
The Scott County Historical Society has walking tours available for Jordan, Shakopee and New Prague. The Carver County Historical Society has walking tours available for Carver, and a driving tour available for Carver County. The Chaska Historical Society features an online historical tour of Chaska.
So, if you’re looking for an escape from quarantine, step into the past.