Monday, July 29, 2013

FinnFest Presentation

FinnFest was a bit of a mixed bag. There was a lot of rain, but also some literal and proverbial sunshine.

The tour went very well, and the ceremony for those who died at Italian Hall was wonderful. People from Finland spoke as well as local dignitaries and historians. Larry Lankton and Revered Bob Langseth gave very eloquent speeches, which highlighted the importance of Italian Hall to area history and memory.

My talk at FinnFest, "Wage Slaves and Radicals: Finns in the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike," went well. There was a packed room, and the talk ended with some great questions. But, perhaps the best feature of the talk was a guest picketing of the talk by local printer and historian Dan Schneider, who is working on a project to translate and print (using a historically accurate press) editions of Tyomies from the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike era.

Dan Schneider "picketing" the FinnFest lecture area hallway announcing his project to translate and reprint 1913-14 Strike era news as published in the Tyomies newspaper. 
I asked Dan to come up and give a description of his project, and it was a great addition to the talk--one that was planned only about half-an-hour before the presentation. Above is an image of Dan in full picket mode as he was walking up and down the FinnFest lecture area hallways. His labor action was a great addition to FinnFest, and his work in translating and reprinting the strike era news is an incredible piece to the strike's story.

Monday, June 17, 2013

FinnFest 2013

Wow...FinnFest is almost here, and with it come a whole host of working-class Finn activities. I'm involved in three events and would like to outline them here:

1) Thursday, June 20, 2013, Finnish Immigrant Working Class Places and Spaces Bus Tour.

I've posted a little on this tour, but would like to include the tour schedule below. I'm excited that the tour has passed its capacity requirement, and we're looking forward to a fun, educational, and reflective day.

The tour schedule:

9.00. Board bus MTU Student Development Complex
9.15. Arrive Dodgeville Temperance Society Hall
10.00. Arrive South Range Hall
10.45. Arrive Kansankoti Hall/Tyomies site
11.30. Arrive Osceola Mine fire site
12.00. Arrive Keweenaw National Historical Park Calumet Visitors Center
12.45-1.30. Lunch on own
1.30. Meet outside Michigan House walk to Italian Hall site for preliminary interpretation
2.00. Italian Hall site ceremony
3.00. End tour at Italian Hall site, stay at Calumet Days, or take bus back to SDC

And, in true working class fashion, instead of the plush tour buses being used by other tours, we'll be using a sturdy, yellow school bus to take us around to these sites.

2) Hanka Day at FinnFest, Friday, June 21, 2013

I volunteer at the Hanka Finnish Immigrant Homestead Museum in Askel, Michigan, and we have a hum-dinger of a time planned. I'll be taking tickets for entrance to the homestead at the old wooden gate, but other volunteers and board members will be dressed as historical interpreters providing the public a glimpse of what life was like on the farm circa 1920. The day will include demonstrations by a black smith, cooking demonstrations, farm animals, music and folk dancing. Big bill if fare for the day and we are expecting anywhere from 300-400 people to visit this great historic site.

3) Saturday, June 22, 2013, presentation, "Wage-slaves and Radicals: Finnish Immigrants in the 1913-14 Copper Strike"

This presentation will highlight the extraordinary part Finns played in the Michigan Copper Strike, and will also include relevant new research on Italian Hall.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Finns in Michigan Goes to Delta County

I just came back from giving a talk about the book Finns in Michigan to folks at the Delta County Historical Society. The members of the historical society were nice enough to invite me to their annual dinner meeting, and I presented to a group of about 70 or so on the unique history of the Finns in Michigan. The people asked great questions during the presentation, the dinner was amazing, and the location was incredible. The talk was held at Gladstone's famous Terrance Bay Inn right on Lake Michigan.

I'm always amazed at the "legs" Finns in Michigan has, it just keeps going--through no work of my own, admittedly.

Delta County is a great place to talk about the Finns in Michigan, primarily for one reason--Rock or Maple Ridge Township. The Rock Hall, owned at one time by Finns associated with the Industrial Workers of the World or "Wobblies," is one of the best examples of a rural social hall, and a physical link with the incredible history of organizational activity in the Finnish immigrant population. In its heyday Rock, and the Maple Ridge area, was alive with the sound of working-class activism and politics, and the Maple Ridge Workers Hall (as it was known) and the community's co-op were seats of great community pride and ideology in action.

I also had the chance to talk about oral history work I did with Escanaba resident Vienna Laine. Vienna is a treasure in the Finnish American community, and had donated a wealth of materials on Finnish American legend Viola Turpeinen to the Finnish American Historical Archive and Museum. Vienna has an incredible mind and shared great memories of growing up in area logging camps, recalled stories she had heard about Michigan and Florida Finns, and had a number of museum pieces that added to the cultural history of Finns and their deep connection to music, specifically polka or accordion music.

It was truly a pleasure to talk with the folks of the Delta County Historical Society.

New Chapter in Finnish in the United States Book

I've been given the chance to write a chapter in the book that is being calling the definitive history of Finns in North America. The title of the book, Finns in the United States: A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration, is being edited by Dr. Auvo Kostiainen, who lives and works in Turku, Finland.

I'm truly honored to be a part of this publication as I've been collaborating with some of the names I've grown up reading in the study of Finnish American history. In addition to Auvo, Dr. Arnold Alanen, Dr. Jon Saari, Dr. Peter Kivisto, and a host of others are contributing to the book.

My chapter in the book was a bit of a surprise for me to write, however. When initially approached I thought I was going to be writing something about labor history or perhaps leftist history, but I was asked to write the chapter on religion. This was a unique challenge for me, and although I wrote about religious groups in Finns in Michigan, it was not a topic that I was well-versed in from an academic or scholarly viewpoint.

So, in talking with Auvo, and in thinking about what I might contribute to the scholarship on the religion of the Finns in the United States, I decided that I wanted to bring a historical materialist perspective to the writing on Finnish religion in America. This is a new perspective, and the book is about bringing new perspectives to the study of Finns in the US.

It is also a perspective that will likely be disliked by some as I approach religion not through religious doctrine or by an ecclesiastical foundation; instead I look at religion through politics, economics, and power relations. In thinking about what I could contribute to the discussion of Finns' religious life in America, I noticed that there was not much critical thought regarding this history. With the exception of Douglas Ollila's work, much of the religious history of Finns was celebratory, a who's who of Finnish pastors, or essentially linked with religious scripture.

I chose to write a secular history.

And, it is a secular history that is perhaps what has been missing from the discussion of Finns and religion in the United States. This perspective is also perhaps one with the least preference to the great number of denominations that exist in Finnish North American religious life. Without a doubt, if someone affiliated with the Suomi Synod (now the ELCA) would have wrote this history, it would have likely been biased toward that organization. The same is true for other denominations such as those affiliated the Apostolic, Laestadian, or National (Missouri Synod) churches. Having someone who is essentially a third party, me, write the book shifts bias from institutional bodies to a general look at how religion functioned on the whole for immigrants and their institutions in America.

It is not a conventional history of religion to say the least, but it is one that might supplement the other quite good histories of other groups that have undertaken the very complex chronicling of Finnish American religious life.

Monday, January 28, 2013

FinnFest 2013 Guided Tour

FinnFest 2013 being held in Hancock, Michigan, is quickly approaching. Thousands are expected to be converging on the Copper Country for the event. As part of the event, I'm giving a guided tour of Finnish American Working Class Places and Spaces. Info about this tour and others available is on the FinnFest web site:

Below is the description of the tour. Later I'll give more information on the specifics of the tour: stops, time, information covered, etc.

Thursday, June 20—Finnish American Working Class Places and Spaces 9:00 am to 4:30 pm

Tour begins and ends at MTU’s Student Development Complex  Pre-registration required. Cost $20 (lunch on your own in Calumet) 20 min. and 40 max. attendance. There is an option to stay in Calumet after tour stops for FinnFest’s Calumet Day if preferred. Shuttle bus will return those who stay in Calumet. Finnish immigrants helped to shape much of the Upper Peninsula’s strong working-class heritage. The struggle they encountered in building America, forming immigrant working-class organizations, and challenging the copper bosses is a remarkable testament to the power an immigrant people can have in shaping new lives in a New World. Though most of those immigrant voices have passed, many of the places and spaces they inhabited remain. This historical tour will link the voices of working-class Finns and the significant structures and landscapes they forged with sweat and sacrifice. Tour stops include the South Range Hall, the site of the former Kansankoti Hall, mining landscapes, the Keweenaw National Historical Park’s Visitor Center, the Italian Hall Memorial site, and graves of Finnish immigrant people who died in Italian Hall at Lake View Cemetery. Labor and immigration historian Gary Kaunonen, author of two books on Michigan’s working-class Finns and co-author of a new book on the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike and Italian Hall tragedy, will lead this tour.