Monday, December 21, 2009

Review of Finns in Michigan from the Michigan Historical Review

This review was done this September by Guntis Smidchens, a member of the Scandinavian Studies Department at the University of Washington. The review was published in the Fall 2009 issue of the Michigan Historical Review.

The review:

Gary Kaunonen. Finns in Michigan; Book review

Smidchens, Guntis

Gary Kaunonen. Finns in Michigan. "Discovering the Peoples of Michigan" series. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2009. Pp. 123. Appendices. For further reference. Index. Notes. Photographs. Paper, $12.95.

The Finns of Michigan gained a prominent place in American ethnic scholarship when Michigan State University historian Richard M. Dorson wrote a chapter about them in his classic, Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of the Upper Peninsula (1952). More than a half-century later, the tradition of Finnish ethnic studies is ably carried on by Gary Kaunonen, archivist at Finlandia University's Finnish American Historical Archives in Hancock, Michigan. Kaunonen avoids the stereotypical account of immigrant accomplishments and contributions to America, offering instead a work "inclusive of the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of the Finnish experience in Michigan" (p. 1)."Ugly" refers to the ideological rift that ran deep, splitting the immigrants from one relatively small European country into violently opposed camps. Kaunonen gives an unbiased account of all political factions (p. 59), succeeding where others such as Armas Holmio fall short (p. 35).

The research behind this book is exceptionally rich and well done.Kaunonen consulted published secondary sources and newspapers in both English and Finnish, and he also makes use of oral histories. The latter sources are essential because so few written documents describe, for example, the logging operations where many Finns worked (p. 32). Women's experiences, too, are not easy to reconstruct (pp. 40-41, 44-45, 69-71, 73-75).

Finnish immigration to Michigan concentrated heavily in the Upper Peninsula; workers were drawn by opportunities offered by copper mines and the timber industry. Finns first came to Hancock around 1864, arriving from Norway's spent mines. Large-scale immigration from Finland proper began in the mid-1880s and peaked around the turn of the twentieth century. Although they arrived as industrial workers, many Finns purchased land and established subsistence farms. Even today in several Upper Peninsula localities, up to one-half of the population can claim Finnish ancestry (p. 8). Among the first Finnish organizations were religious congregations. Finns constructed churches and then split into warring denominations. Secular temperance societies built Finn Halls to host nonreligious activities such as lectures, concerts, dances, and sports; they often housed libraries as well. These social and recreational societies gradually gave way to organized labor groups. The Michigan Copper Strike of 19131914 was one of the events that helped fragment Finns into deeply divided ideological factions.

Strange sociocultural practices such as sauna and the "Finglish" language, along with rumors of drunken knife fights and a preference for communist ideas often marked Finns as stereotypical outsiders and savages. "We do not want Finlanders," the manager of a copper mine once wrote to the commissioner of immigration at Ellis Island (p. 18). But Finns also left a positive mark on American culture when they organized Michigan's first successful consumers' cooperatives, which grew to include large numbers of non-Finns. These cooperatives began to disappear only recently, replaced by supermarkets (pp. 80-83).

In summary, Kaunonen's Finns in Michigan adds a valuable case study of one very diverse ethnic group to the history of American ethnic communities and their cultures. This brief review cannot do justice to his colorful, rigorously researched book.

Guntis Smidchens
Department of Scandinavian Studies
University of Washington, Seattle
December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Update on Projects and Challenge Accepted

Busy, busy, with most folks this time of year, things are hectic. I'll detail two of the projects that I am involved with below, but first an update on Challenge Accepted: it has appeared on the Michigan State Press author pages and this is a link to that site: The book is also available from (among other sellers) at: The book will come out sooner from Michigan State University Press, but the release date on amazon is May 1, "Vapaus" very fitting for a book about the cultural and labor history of a working class group.

Now, to two projects I have been lucky enough to become associated with:

1) Writing the forward to a Journal of Finnish Studies edition regarding Finnish American labor history and folklore. This edition of the Journal of Finnish Studies promises to be a really interesting (as the all are), inter-disciplinary look at Finnish Americans and working class culture in the labor movement. The article authors for this edition are experts in this field, and I'm really excited to be associated with the work. Articles are being contributed by Dr. James P. Leary, a professor of folklore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has a number of classic (and really humorous) books about folklore in the Upper Midwest. Also, two PhD students in the Madison folklore program are contributing articles, Hilary Virtanen and Tim Frandy. Both, really good folklorists who have roots in the UP and northern Wisconsin.

Last, but not least, a friend and labor historian from Aberdeen, Washington, Aaron Goings, is contributing an article. Aaron just finished his PhD dissertation on the social and labor history of the Grays Harbor, Washington, area, all 500 pages of it! Finns factor greatly in his research and writing, so hopefully his dissertation gets published soon, and his article for this edition of the Journal examines aspects of the Finnish American labor movement in this region.

I already kind of have the hook for the forward, which is that the articles in the edition all center on the creation of working class literacy...beyond something like teaching immigrants the basics of reading and writing, to an expanded literacy of what it meant to be class conscious. This is what the Industrial Workers of the World or "Wobbly" songs and culture were in essence doing, and something that the authors of the articles really bring forth in their research and writing. I think the issue promises to be an outstanding edition of the Journal of Finnish Studies, which is edited by Dr. Beth Virtanen, who is a visiting scholar at Finlandia University.

2) This project is an article for a book of articles relating to ethnicity in the Upper Peninsula and is being edited by Hilary Virtanen (see above). I am writing an article on the importance of Finn Halls in the Upper Peninsula, and have decided to concentrate on labor halls in Marquette, Negaunee, Rock (or Maple Ridge), and Hancock. Through this process I have had the chance to visit the archives at Northern Michigan University in Marquette and have found that they have a great collection of materials regarding the Rock Workers' and Co-op Hall. Equally exciting, the archivist there, Marcus Robbins, knows that it is a great collection and is looking into ways to make the material more accessible to the public. This truly unique collection from Rock has a great home at Northern!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Another Finns in Michigan Review...From Finland No Less

Click on the images to enlarge and read the review, top is first page of the review, bottom second
Above is another review of Finns in Michigan sent to me by the good folks at Michigan State University Press. This review was done by Dr. Mika Roinila, a professor at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. A kind of cool thing about this review is that it was done for the Finnish quarterly Siirtolaisuus/Migration, which is published by The Institute of Migration located in Turku, Finland. Dr. Roinila did a great job on the review. He wrote about some things he liked in the book, and also gave a good critique of what he would have liked to see more of in the book. As an author, I really enjoy reading a good, well thought out and well-written critique because I recognize there is always room to grow as a historian and writer. Critiques are a good chance to learn if you will allow yourself to listen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Michigan State University Press Catalogue Entry

Striker's gathering outside the Western Federation of Miners headquarters in Calumet, 1913

Challenge Accepted is about ready to hit the presses. This week I received the text for the Michigan State University Press catalogue reads as follows:

A fresh view of Michigan’s Copper Country through the eyes of Finnish immigrants

Challenge Accepted
A Finnish Immigrant Response to Industrial America in Michigan’s Copper Country
Gary Kaunonen

Michigan’s Copper Country, once one of the world’s major copper-producing regions, is located on the Upper Peninsula, in the northern reaches of the state. There were active copper mines in the area for 150 years, from 1845 until 1995. Many of the mine workers in this region were immigrants to the United States. Like workers in other low-paying and hazardous occupations in the early twentieth century, mineworkers in Copper Country attempted to unionize, in order to obtain better working conditions, wages, and hours.

The Michigan miners were unsuccessful in their struggles with mine owners, which came to a climax in the 1913–14 Copper Country Strike. This nine-month battle between workers represented by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) and the three major mining companies in the region took a particularly nasty turn on Christmas Eve, 1913, at a party for strikers and their families organized by the WFM. As many as 500 people were in the Italian Benevolent Society hall in Calumet, Michigan, when someone reportedly shouted “fire.” There was no fire, but 73 to 79 people, over 60 of them children, died in the stampede for the exit.

Against this dramatic backdrop, Gary Kaunonen tells the story of Finnish immigrants to Copper Country, who arrived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries with little understanding of the American copper mining industry. By examining the written record and material culture of Finnish immigrant proletarians—analyzing buildings, cultural institutions, and publications of the socialist-unionist media—Kaunonen adds a new depth to our understanding of the time and place, the events and a people.

/author/Gary Kaunonen earned his Master’s in Industrial History and Archaeology from Michigan Technological University and is currently in MTU’s Ph.D. program in Rhetoric and Technical Communication. Both of his grandfathers worked in the mines of the Mesabi Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota and, before becoming an academic, Kaunonen, himself, charged blast furnaces and operated a bull-ladle in an iron foundry. He is the author of Finns in Michigan (MSU Press).

Friday, September 4, 2009

Challenge Accepted Cover

A while back I got a chance to preview the cover for Challenge Accepted and it is spot-on. The person who did the cover really captured the essence of the book. The designer used a sort of strike poster template and added an image I sent to Michigan State University Press. The image is from a Työmies publication that has not seen the daylight in probably 90 or more years. The labor cartoon depicts the awakening of mineworkers in the Copper Country.
The really unique aspect of this cartoon, drawn by Konstu Sallinen, is that it shows this "mental" awakening by depicting a physical event that portrays a mineworker standing up to shake the very foundations of the Copper Country's ground. This action, by the purposefully enlarged laborer, sends the copper bosses running. The theme of proletarian awakening and revolt is one that was sounded frequently by Finnish immigrant socialist-unionists and one that the book explores in-depth.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Challenge Accepted Synopsis and Chapter List

The Työmies Publishing Company printed the English language newspaper the Wage Slave in an attempt to join and influence the American socialist movement

A 500-or-so-word synopsis of Challenge Accepted:

Generally, Finnish immigrants entered Michigan’s Copper Country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries with little understanding of the American industrial setting. Their experiences with Copper Country industry and society led some of these immigrants to formulate a proactive response via direct action against the hegemony of Copper Country monopoly capital. Challenge Accepted explores the Finnish immigrants’ clash with the Copper Country industrial setting by examining the written record and material culture of Finnish immigrant proletarians through analysis of buildings, cultural institutions, and publication of socialist-unionist media.

This collective response by Finnish immigrant proletarians was in essence an answer to an unspoken challenge issued by the Copper Country’s mining oligarchy to Finnish immigrants, beguiling them to struggle for the betterment of their lives in America. Finnish immigrant proletarians accepted this tacit challenge from the mining companies facing great odds. Resistance to this challenge came fast and furious from the mining companies and at times, even from within their own organizations as the movement struggled with equality within its ranks, creating a focused direction, recognizing a guiding ideology, and utilizing agreed upon strategy and tactics.

Finnish immigrant proletarians wagered the success of their organizational efforts by agitating for and participating in the bitter, sometimes bloody 1913-14 Copper Country Strike. This 9-month struggle between organized labor (Western Federation of Miners) and the mining companies created great fits of passion and sorrow. No event created more anguish than the tragic events at Italian Hall. Challenge Accepted examines the events of the 1913-14 Strike and Italian Hall using often-overlooked proletarian Finnish immigrant sources.

Challenge Accepted concludes that the most noteworthy accomplishment of the Finnish immigrant socialist-unionists in the Copper Country was that as a largely unskilled group of immigrant laborers, newspaper employees, and “hobo” socialists, they had a very considerable impact on the history of a place dominated by powerful mining companies and the men who ran those companies. Finnish immigrant socialist-unionists in Hancock grew a small upstart cultural organization, with a small upstart publishing company, into a force that could contend with the power of monopoly capital in the Copper Country.

This was truly remarkable, a challenge accepted by Finnish immigrant socialist-unionists to have a say in their own working conditions in a place dominated by a mining oligarchy; but embedded in this study of ethnic political-labor history is also a story of division and decline that ultimately and terminally fractured a truly proletarian movement dedicated to working-class solidarity. This demise is significant when recounting the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the American labor movement in the early twentieth century.

Chapter List:

Chapter 1. Finnish Immigration and Settlement in a Hancock, Michigan, Neighborhood
Chapter 2. Finnish Immigrant Cultural Organizations and the “Finn Hall”
Chapter 3. Finnish Immigrant Socialist-Unionists in Hancock
Chapter 4. The Early Existence of the Työmies Publishing Company, 1904–1909
Chapter 5. The Työmies Publishing Company Reaches Maturity, 1910–1913
Chapter 6. The 1913–14 Copper Country Strike
Chapter 7. Gun Hounds, Scabs, and Tragedy
Appendix 1. Työmies Publishing Company Staff and Contributors, 1909
Appendix 2. Työmies Publishing Company Interior Use of Space
Appendix 3. Copper Territory Strikers’ March Song, 1913
Appendix 4. Työmies Publishing Company’s Composite List of Italian Hall Deceased, 1913

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finns in Michigan Hits #3 on Amazon's Hot New Releases and Two Reviews

Review of Finns in Michigan by Pam Brunfelt from the Finnish American Reporter (click on the image to enlarge)
Review (left hand side of page) of Finns in Michigan from Michigan History magazine (click on the image to enlarge)

Finns in Michigan has hit #3 on's Hot New Releases for Michigan. The book has been in the Top 10 of that category for over 12 weeks. I want to thank those who have purchased the book and have really enjoyed the feedback I have been getting regarding the book and its topics.

Speaking of feedback, two reviews of the book have come out. The first is in the July issue of the Finnish American Reporter. Pam Brunfelt (professor of history at Vermillion Community College and a great historian to boot) wrote the review and did a really good job of capturing the essence of the book. The second review came out in the May/June issue of Michigan History magazine. In that review, they use a quote from the book.

I am pretty happy that the book has been well received, but even more excited that Finnish American history and the working folks who made that history are getting some well-deserved press. You can click on the images to enlarge the articles.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why Write Challenge Accepted?

Hibbing, MN, Finnish Socialist Federation local's Workers' Hall

As I am putting the final touches on edits to Challenge Accepted, it occurred to me to answer in print a question a number of people have asked, "Why would anyone write a book like Challenge Accepted? Why are you interested in this topic?"

It is a potentially controversial history about socialist, union minded, and anarchist "Finns," who were a group of people that many may well rather forget...but, and this is a huge but, the contributions and impact of these immigrant socialist-unionist Finns is an important piece in the historical fabric of America.

There have certainly been a number of other books written about the Finnish immigrant socialist-unionist movement and there have been many other books written about labor history, a topic that should be especially dear to Finnish Americans, but Challenge Accepted is a different type of history that analyzes a working class group on its own terms using material culture as a tool of analysis along with the documentary record.

Why material culture? An incredibly influential guru of material culture studies, Thomas Schlereth, writes that material culture creates a, "more democratic, populist, even proletarian history.”

As an extension of social history, which delves into organizations, people, and topics previously disregarded by customary histories, Schlereth writes that, "…both social history and material culture studies challenge the older view of history as past politics, both have sought to demonstrate the great diversity of the American people and their lifestyles, and both have been anxious to expand (some would say explode) the traditional boundaries of American historical scholarship and thereby actually redefine what constitutes American history."

This is my reason for writing a book like Challenge Accepted. It uses the buildings, machines (printing presses, typesetting machines, etc.), and publications of Finnish socialist-unionist immigrants to expand the historical record. I want to bring to light that there are other avenues available when doing the process of history. Authors do not have to be limited by how things have been done in the past, there are alternative methods of research that yield great results for increasing the knowledge base if a person is willing to put in the effort and time to find and work with the not-so-well known resources.
Challenge Accepted is designed to uncover materials, research methodologies, and resources that have up to this point been ignored or scantly accessed in examination of the Finnish immigrants' socialist-unionist movement. It is my hope that the book will stimulate conversation, reveal alternative research methods such as material culture analysis, reserve a place in history for this important immigrant group that challenged the status quo, and hopefully uncover sources that are less traveled or often overlooked.

Is Challenge Accepted the end all authority on Finnish immigrant-socialist-unionists? Of course not, anyone who might claim there work is untouchable or without fault is not grounded in reality or just concerned with making a profit. I think the writing of Challenge Accepted using material culture and ethnic sources is a starting point in opening up non-traditional analysis of history for people or groups like the Finnish immigrant socialist-unionists.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Challenge Accepted Steams Ahead

1909 collage of Työmies annual serial publications, which were offered in addition to the newspaper, they are in order from left to right, Köyhälistön Nuija (Proletarian Hammer), Vappu (May Day), Työmiehen Joulu (Workingmen's Christmas), and Punanen Juhannus (Red Midsummer).

It has been a while since the last entry, but I've been busy with a couple of side projects. But first, a status update on Challenge Accepted. I've received an edited manuscript and will work on getting final edits ready for publication, this brings production very close and way ahead of schedule. The folks at Michigan State University Press are moving it along and I think it may be ready by the end of 2009.

The side projects: 1) I've joined a great social networking site by the name of Union Book for union minded, collective action folks. Its an incredible forum for union activity and open to membership to all so join today. A link to the site: One of the best features of Union Book is that it is an international site for union minded folks, I've learned so much about organized labor in its international context, which has been exciting.

Out of my Union Book activities I befriended a Canadian union member with Finnish background. Together we have begun blogging about North American working class issues at: His name is Ilpo and he belongs to Canada Union of Public Employees Local 1356 (CUPE), which represents full-time and part-time workers of York University in Toronto, Ontario. Ilpo is a very smart fella, check out our blog.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Finns in Michigan Feedback

I've been getting some really good feedback regarding Finns in Michigan. Some is complimentary, some is content/ideological critique and one is a correction. I'm especially thankful for the correction because despite my rather hairy facial appearance (still got the winter growth) I'm human and as the old saying goes humans are known to make mistakes. I like to know when I've got something factually wrong. I'm going to channel Kwai Chang Caine from that great 1970s TV show, Kung Fu, put away pride, and write that I've made a mistake.

In an email, a person pointed out that I had misidentified a member of the noteworthy Mannerheim family of Finland. I identified a Mannerheim visiting Calumet in 1904 as the Mannerheim that later became President of Finland...not so.

The person who notified me about the correction was kind enough to write:

"I would like to point out one case of mistaken identity. On page 10, I read 'Carl Gustav Mannerheim, future leader of the Finns versus the Soviets in the famous Winter War and eventual president of Finland, sought exile in Calumet.' I knew that this could not be so, because he was in Russia during this time, as well as before and after. In 1887 Carl Gustav Mannerheim entered cavalry school in St. Petersburg and left two years later with the rank of second lieutenant. Two years later he was given a position with the Chevalier Guards (the Czarina’s squadron). The Chevalier guards went to Moscow in 1896 for the coronation of Nicholas II, and Mannerheim was chosen to be one of four officers who lined the steps leading to the thrones during the service. In 1893 he was promoted Lieutenant of the Guards, and to Second Captain in 1899."

"When the Russo-Japanese war broke out in 1904 Mannerheim asked for and received a transfer to an outfit that was being sent to the front. He returned to Russia a colonel, with three decorations. Later he was chosen to lead a fact-finding tour to Central Asia and China in 1906-08. Upon return from Asia he was stationed in Poland, where he was promoted to general. He returned to Finland in December 1917."

"There was a Carl Mannerheim who visited Calumet, but it was not the Baron Carl Gustav. Count Carl Mannerheim Sr. had seven children of whom four were boys. According to a custom of that time at least three of them carried the first name of Carl, their father’s first name: they were Carl, the Count (only the eldest son could inherit the title of Count) , Carl Gustav Emil, the future Marshall, and Carl Fridolf Johan. The Count aggravated Bobrikov with his passive resistance and was exiled. He died in Stockholm in 1915. I can find no reference to his having visited in the U.S. so it must not have played a significant part in his life."


Thank you emailer for the correction.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Encyclopedia of American Labor History

I am very excited to have a small part in a really great labor history project, spearheaded by the outstanding labor historian Melvyn Dubofsky, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University, SUNY. This 3 volume work, The Encyclopedia of American Labor History, is being published by Facts on File out of New York. Melvyn is the editor and labor historians Colin Davis, University of Alabama at Birmingham and John Stoner, Binghamton University, are the Assistant Editors.

I do not know if they have a date for when the work will be published, but I would think that it will be available within the next two be on the look out for it. I'm very excited about the project and a resource like this is way overdue for American labor history. Additionally, having a labor historian like Melvyn Dubofsky edit the work is great...he was one of the early advocates of the New Labor History and his book on the IWW, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World is a labor history classic (get the unabridged version if you can).

According to the editors, "The Encyclopedia is projected for use by a wide audience of non-history professionals and non-specialists. Its most likely users will be secondary school and community college students and general readers with an interest in the subject matter who will find it available at their local libraries."

Looks to be truly a peoples' resource.

I have the good fortune to be contributing five entries. They are:

1907 and 1916 Minnesota Iron Ore Strikes
1913-14 Michigan Copper Miners Strike and Italian Hall
Work Peoples' College, Smithville (Duluth), Minnesota
Gus Hall (Arvo Halberg), former General Secretary of the CP-USA
Leo Laukki, Finnish immigrant leader of the "Finn Wobblies"

For more information on the project and how to contribute, visit:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Italian Hall: The Process of History

December 26, 1913, edition of Työmies, which detailed events of Italian Hall; the Finnish language sources have for the most part been left out of the writing concerning that tragic event

I am going to wax theoretic here for a bit about the process of doing history using the Italian Hall as an example.

For those of you unfamiliar with Italian Hall, it was a tragic event that took place during the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike. No incident during the 9-month strike was more significant than events that occurred on December 24, 1913, at a multi-ethnic Christmas party for strikers and their families at the Italian Hall in Calumet. Sadly, the Christmas Eve party would turn calamitous and tragic. In the waning hours of the afternoon, a stampede of men, women and children went streaming down the stairs of the Italian Hall's second floor where the party was being held. In the stairwell, bodies of fallen people began to pile up on one another, seemingly after a number of people tripped and fell.

The events of that night will likely forever be shrouded in mystery, but some maintain that a cry of fire initiated the fateful rush and some propose that a man wearing a pro-mining company Citizen's Alliance button shouted the false, dubious cry of fire. This assertion has never been verified even after congressional inquires sought to root out fact from fiction. Regretfully, even the gruesome toll of the dead is in question. For many years it was thought that 73 men, woman and children died (children were the majority of those lost in the stampede), but in recent years that number has been placed between 74 and perhaps 80. Shortly after the disaster, the Finnish language, pro-labor newspaper Työmies, published in Hancock, Michigan, placed the number of dead at 83.

Events of that night will seemingly always be surrounded in a cloud of mystery where more questions than answers exist. If anybody today claims to know (or write) exactly what happened that night they are not writing history, rather, they are expressing an opinion. Truth, or the impression of truth, about Italian Hall has all but faded into black because the chaos surrounding the event blurred the historical record and created many myths that today cloud any substantive search for truth in the historical record. The only "truth" that we can state with certitude today is that on that Christmas Eve in 1913 the Italian Hall became the scene of incredible horror, misery and sorrow for many Copper Country families.

A number of articles, books, pamphlets, exhibits, monuments and the like have been written about the singular topic of Italian Hall and provide us a chance to explore a few critical parts in the process of "doing history." One of the great things about the field of history is that anyone can do it. If you had a relative involved in Italian Hall, writing a history about the event or the relative and the event is a great way to expand the knowledge base and historical record. History is not like engineering or chemistry, you do not need heavy equipment to move mountains or a bunch of chemicals to experiment with turning base elements into gold in your basement...history is a peoples' discipline in that almost everyone can do it, but to me there are certain ethics, methodologies and principles that should be adhered to while doing history.

In my opinion, history should be as objective as possible. A historian should not be trying to prove a point or win an argument, leave that to debate teams and trial lawyers. Outwardly trying to prove a point using historical sources is a slippery slope because most often these historical sources are created by or taken from imperfect human beings who have all the pitfalls of human bias and subjectivity. So, no matter how many people swear that something happened how it did in the historical record, there is no way to "prove" that such is the case with documentary evidence. This is not to say that a historian does not have the right to make some conclusions, interpret the historical record in a certain manner, or assert some personal feelings about a topic, but this should always be pointed out clearly in the writing.

To simply write something like, "It must have happened this way because this is the only logical or reasonable thing that could have occurred" is quite simply bad history. It not only leads to people to false conclusions, but that type of writing assumes things that should not be assumed, especially when we remember the old axiom about what it means to assume. Things do not always happen logically, just look at the last 8 years of U.S. history (where's the rim shot on this keyboard) and assuming that things do so, as a person writing about past events, is misleading and is indicative of poor research methodology. History does not have to be "Joe Friday" history (Just the facts please, ma'am), but if a writer or researcher wants to inject personal opinion and interpretation into the historical narrative this should be made absolutely transparent.

The events of Italian Hall are especially susceptible to this because there has been a lot of emotion, mythology and misrepresentation surrounding the event and assumptions could be made on historically subjective things such as testimony, newspaper accounts, and personal memory of events, but this is not the job of the historian. The first job of a historian should be to chronicle various sources through research, writing, and the critique, identification and selection of primary resources.

Now, as a labor historian, I have been accused a couple of times of being too pointed towards a pro-labor view, but this brings up a good point in research and writing...a historian can let bias pick his or her topic, but once that topic is being researched and eventually written about, the bias should end as much as humanly possible.

Challenge Accepted, for instance, may be seen as a pro-labor history, but essentially the book is a labor history about pro-union people...a labor history from the inside out. The book examines an aspect of the Finnish immigrant labor and political movement in the early 20th century on its own terms, using primary sources that were unabashedly pro-labor. If the book is critical of capitalism and large corporations (which it is), it is because the historical actors in this book were critical of those entities.

Regarding the selection of primary me (and many others), the most important role of a historian is evaluation of primary resources. What gets left in and what gets left out of the research and writing about your topic. Not everyone is good at this and in my estimation this evaluation and use of primary sources distinguishes "good" history from incomplete history.

The evaluation and selection of which primary resources to include in your research and writing is fundamental to doing good history because these are your subjective, first person, time of event sources that capture the feelings, sentiments, or actions of the historical actors or events in question. A number of the works regarding the Italian Hall really drop the ball in this respect because they failed to include or do any personal research of the primary Finnish language sources about Italian Hall. Thus, these works have left out the voice of the largest contingent of ethnic folks whose loved ones died during the tragic events of that Christmas Eve night. Selection of sources is critical to doing good and complete history. Challenge Accepted fills this gap in the primary research of Italian Hall by including quotes from Työmies, which are very powerful...more powerful than anything I could ever write on my own.

Additionally, a word about research, which is the foundation of historical writing. I must admit that I am perhaps a little traditional in this respect, I believe that a historian should do his or her own research...nothing can replace the visceral experience of handling and examining the resource. I will give a good example of this from my own personal experience of working with a tangible item. For Challenge Accepted I looked at the history of the Työmies Publishing Company. In its early history Työmies was a small upstart socialist "rag" with around 1,000 readers, but within the span of a decade it had grown rapidly and achieved a readership of over 12,000. Within this time, the color red had grown to become heavily associated with the paper, its readers and the ideology of the movement it was a mouthpiece for.

So, its 10th anniversary was a pretty big deal. I had read about the 10th anniversary issue of the newspaper, there were greetings from Camille Huysmans, the Belgian socialist and a lot of fanfare. I then had a chance to look at a microfilm copy of the entire run of the 1913 papers and saw the 10th anniversary edition in black and white on a microfilm reader. Later, I decided to look at an actual physical copy of the edition, seeing as Challenge Accepted was to use both historical analysis and material culture analysis. What I found with the physical object was fascinating...the entire 10th Anniversary edition was printed on red paper! Without being in an archive and dealing with the primary resource this unique aspect of Työmies' history would have been lost to me.

To me, historical research should be a first person venture.

Lastly, about the reason for "doing history." I might be a little warped in my perception, but to me the point of the research, writing and work in history, is that someone can come along in 10 or 20 years and totally refute your work. This is how we learn, how the knowledge base is expanded and how the scholarship is increased. It is my sincere hope that in 25 years someone comes along and finds what I did significant enough to tear apart...well, maybe not tear apart, but at least critique. To me history is not about profit or fame, it is about the greater good and understanding those who came before us. This deserves as much scrutiny as possible.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Finns in Michigan #4 on Amazon's Hot New Releases

Gymnasts in front of Saima Temperance Hall in South Range, Michigan. The early labor movement grew out of "liberal" factions of the temperance societies. This charge toward labor consciousness was led by thespians and early socialists, known as the "Apostles of Socialism," like Tanner and Hendrickson who traveled across the U.S. "preaching" the socialist message. Soon a splitting occured between the more conservative temperance members and the "free thinkers." The splits of Finnish immigrant groups are covered extensively in Finns in Michigan.

Finns in Michigan is #4 on Amazon's Hot New Releases (in Michigan). Here is a link to that page:

When it became known that I was writing a book titled Finns in Michigan a few folks pointed out, “Holmio already wrote that book.” This is true and not true...let me explain...Holmio’s book, titled Michiganin Suomalaisten Historia, was written in 1967 (in Finnish). The translation, which some erroneously call “The Finns in Michigan,” was translated into English by Ellen Ryynanen in 2001 and titled History of the Finns in Michigan. The current book that I wrote, Finns in Michigan, is part of Michigan State University Press’ “Discovering the Peoples of Michigan” series. This series is a very popular ongoing effort of Michigan State University Press that brings to light Michigan's extensive ethnic diversity and I was more than happy to add the Finnish American experience to this wonderful series.

Physically, the two books differ in one main way, Holmio’s book in original Finnish version is 639 pages long and the English version is 512 pages. Finns in Michigan is 136 pages, including end materials.

Stylistically, Finns in Michigan differs from Holmio’s offering in that this rendition of the Finns’ history in Michigan is a broad survey, rather than Holmio’s comprehensive look at the history of Finnish immigrants and Finnish Americans in Michigan. Holmio’s book also has a number of lists of first settlers and pioneers in various communities, which genealogists might prize, while Finns in Michigan is more of a rolling narrative.

Additionally, Finns in Michigan looks at the Finnish experience in Michigan using a much different “lens” than Holmio’s work. Holmio was a pastor in the Suomi Synod and educator at Suomi College. His book is noticeably written from the viewpoint of a person with this background. I remember a discussion I had with Olaf Rankinen, archivist emeritus, when I first hit the scene researching Michigan Finnish immigrant union groups in 2003. After sitting down with Olaf to discuss Työmies and quite frankly not knowing the full history between Suomi and Työmies, I asked Olaf for sources about Michigan Finns in the labor and working class political movement. He gave me a number of sources and included Holmio’s book stating, “He’s a Synodian, but fair to labor and Työmies.”

As Olaf acknowledged, I recognized a predilection in Holmio’s writing and decided that as a social and labor historian, I wanted to offer a different angle on the history of Michigan’s Finns. I am not claiming that what I wrote is better, truer, or somehow more factual; I am just writing that what you will read in Finns in Michigan comes from a different perspective and thus is not a retelling of Holmio’s Michiganin Suomalaisten Historia.

Hope this might clarify the difference between the two books, but of course don't take my word for it, read them both and come to your own conclusions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Presidential Inauguration

Below is an article I wrote for The Finnish American Reporter about the election of a black president. I write a monthly column in that newspaper dealing with aspects of heritage and there is generally plenty of historical fodder for articles, but with the election of a President who some folks have been disparaging of because of his ethnicity, I dedicated one article to this contemporary issue.

Generally, I'm not a big supporter of established politics (i.e. "The Man"), but I supported and will support Mr. Obama, retaining the option to be critical of his stand and action on organized labor...its been a long time since labor has had a true advocate in the White House, hopefully this will change today...Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009.

The article:

Ask the Archivist…Having a Black President with Muslim Heritage isn’t so Strange

As this year’s Presidential election has come and gone, I am reminded of some of the truly awful comments that were made in the media and that I personally heard regarding the race and heritage of our new President-elect Barack Obama. Some folks took special disliking to the fact that Obama’s father was an African Muslim.

Regardless of political affiliation, I think we all can agree that this election was a very important watershed event in our nation’s history; perceivably for the first time in American presidential history, the color of a person’s skin mattered less than the measure of the individual.

In thinking about the historic nature of the election and some peoples’ behaviors towards race, culture and heritage, I began to wonder how these things have affected the perception of Finns in America. I looked to the archive for answers and found that not so long ago, Finns were on the bad side of some truly stupid thinking regarding race issues and unfamiliar cultural practices.

Not so long ago, the Finns as a race were often characterized as less than honorable people lacking intelligence, responsibility and stimulus control. In fact, often in casual conversation or media jottings Finnish immigrants and their families were referred to as a race of “Jack-pine Savages.” As it was then, race today is a socially constructed entity that typically is built by prevailing power structures intending to divide and compartmentalize.

In 1983, Finnish American sociologist Peter Kivisto wrote in the International Migration Review, “Finns occupied the status of a definite ‘out-group’ even though they are White Protestant. They were depicted as ‘Jack-pine Savages,’ Mongolians (in 1907, an attempt was made to deny them citizenship by invoking existing anti-Oriental legislation), and violence prone revolutionaries.”

The seemingly strange socio-cultural practices of Finnish immigrants further added to others’ misconceptions about their neighbors from Suomi. Strange practices, such as nights when entire families went naked into super-heated buildings to sweat made Finns a rather strange looking lot to those who had never met someone from Vaasa or Oulu.

While sauna was strange and the nakedness of the ritual spit in the face of everything proper and Victorian of that era, borrowing from a feasible, but fictionalized account of Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio’s Finnish immigrant population in the late 19th Century we see another practice could stir the deepest fears of others’ regarding Finns.

A book that I am currently reading in the Archive by author Kalle Potti, Iloinen Harbori (Happy Harbor), addresses the strange way in which others saw the Finnish immigrant practice of cupping, which in theory relieved pain through the process of bloodletting. (In cupping, a healer would make small slits in a person’s back, suck on the leather-covered small end of a hollowed out cow horn while attaching it to the victim’s…I mean patient’s back and then blood would drain into the horn until the horn with the “bad” blood dropped off the back.)

“Soon the word spread around the whole city that four men had been murdered by sucking the blood out of their bodies…People and police gathered around the building, but no one dared go in to inspect. The next day the sheriff and his deputies arrived and (made) an inquiry about the whole affair. Not until all the men showed their backs to the sheriff and Kreeta demonstrated and explained the Finnish method of bloodletting, did the sheriff accept the fact that no murders were committed…The Irish, however, believed for a long time that the Finns had actually murdered four of their own men by sucking the blood through tubes made of cows’ horns.”

Having a bi-racial president with Muslim heritage doesn’t seem so strange does it?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Finns in Michigan Hits MSU-Press Catalogue

An image from the book, a circa 1927 advertisement from
a Finnish American consumers' cooperative
publication for their proletarian-inspired coffee line

Finns in Michigan has officially hit the Michigan State University Press 2009 Spring Catalogue. Below are the kind words used to describe the book taken from the catalogue. The following is the link to the "Discovering the Peoples of Michigan" series web site and Finns in Michigan page, which has early ordering information:

"This book presents an unvarnished history of a surprisingly diverse group of immigrants. In Finns in Michigan Gary Kaunonen probes the intricacies of immigration, labor, and ideology among the members of this intriguing and historically important ethnic group. He skillfully traces the evolution of a vibrant, diverse, dramatic, and at times deeply quarrelsome people who left an indelible mark on the state's history."

"Kaunonen examines the many schisms and splits that define the course of Finnish social life in Michigan. Michigan's Finns flocked to diverse cultural organizations that span a broad ideological spectrum. This book examines an extraordinarily wide range of organizations, including religious institutions, temperance societies, working-class political and labor groups, the cooperative movement, and a nationalist association of Finns."

"Finns in Michigan is a study of the contributions of Michigan's Finns in the workplace, in society, and in cultural life. Unlike previous, sometimes mythologized, histories of the Finns in Michigan, Kaunonen's rendition strives to be a more accurate representation of 'the good, the bad, and the other" activities of a group he calls "possibly America's most diverse family.'"

Discovering the Peoples of Michigan
Paperback Edition:Photos, notes, references; world rights 136 pp., 5.5 " x 8.5 ", April 2009 paper, $12.95 0-87013-850-2 978-0-87013-850-8