Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Grass Roots History

Grass Roots History

Copyright Date: 1947
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 280
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Grass Roots History
    Book Description:

    The pivot of history is not the uncommon, but the usual, and the true makers of history are “the people, yes.” Theodore C. Blegen, writing with discernment and vigor, explores in his book the simple essence of grass roots history, the colors and forms and the processes of our daily life and civilization. He uses diaries and letters, songs and ballads of the immigrants and pioneers, everyday speech, and newspaper advertisements to show clearly and sharply the exciting sources of “the literature of the unlettered,” to reveal the spirit of the day, and to reconstruct for the reader a segment of the American past. “We have need to dig into the folk story of America if we are to bring out the pattern of American development and American culture in all its color and richness of texture and design. Grass roots history is an avenue to that ‘social awareness’ which the natural scientists, more boldly than the social scientists, have declared to be the most urgent and compelling need of our day.” This is the author’s own statement of the significance of grass roots history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3645-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
  3. Inverted Provincialism
    (pp. 3-13)

    IN THESE days of grave national and international problems, it is a first essential to take stock of what we are and have, of what we think and feel — even, I venture to say, of our folk culture, though such an acute critic as Margaret Marshall says that anybody who talks about folk or folklore in America has a bear by the tail.

    Everybody has his own definition of folk culture — everybody from anthropologist to sociologist and novelist, to hillbilly radio crooner and cookbook publisher — and they all differ. Observe, however, that even when warning us away,...

  4. Literature of the Unlettered
    (pp. 14-28)

    A WRITER in theNew Republicnot long ago hurled a bomb at the so-called “old-stock historians of immigration,” and as it exploded it scattered fragments all about. One of these was the assertion that most of the “old-stock historians” have “written with an emotional remoteness that catches little of the fire curling around their footnotes.”

    The truth of the matter is that much writing on American immigration has been statistical and has failed to break through the crust of figures and graphs to the living realities that alone can give them significance. Much more has been filiopietistic, bathed in...


    • Singing Immigrants
      (pp. 31-54)

      THANKS to the ballad collectors, we know about the singing cowboy — his troubles on the old Chisholm trail and his horror of being buried on the lone prairie, “where the rattlesnakes hiss, and the crow flies free.“ We have heard his grim warning that Comanche Bill “will lift off your hair on the dreary Black Hills,” and we are familiar with his efforts to whoop, yell, and drive his “little dogies” from Texas to Wyoming.

      So also we know of the singing French-Canadian voyageur, whose favorite chanson tells of crystal fountains, roundelays, nightingales, and a love lost all for...

    • The America Book
      (pp. 55-64)

      AS WE look back to 1837, across a gulf of a century, we seem to see “through a glass, darkly.” Schoolbook memories stir our minds, however, and we discern a few outlines and forms: Andrew Jackson, gaunt and sterneyed, emerging from the White House to make way for Martin Van Buren; the collapse of banks and business in a financial panic; and across the waters a girl of eighteen ascending the throne of England, opening an era that was to bear her name. But all this is far in the past — cold print and quaint pictures, remote from modern...

    • Immigrant Marthas
      (pp. 65-80)
      Guri Olsdatter

      THOUGH much is said in general terms about the role of women in the making of America, historians have tended to leave to novelists the important task of exploiting this theme in detail. Even in the history of the westward movement little place has been given to the achievements and influence of women, though Arthur M. Schlesinger has said that “no proper conception of the subjugation of the wilderness by the forces of civilization can be gained without an appreciation of the part that the women pioneers played.”

      The preoccupation of American historians with political development and their comparative neglect,...

    • Pioneer Folkways
      (pp. 81-102)

      GENEROUS hospitality was characteristic of the Norwegian-American frontier homes. There were people who liked to be complimented for their “genuine old Norwegian hospitality,” but the spirit was essentially that of the American frontier. The frontier rule was that no one should be turned away unfed and unwarmed, and this rule was followed by immigrants and native Americans alike.

      Even a home temporarily deserted might be occupied by strangers upon occasion. Sören Bache tells of coming in 1839 to a house where he and his companion hoped to secure lodging. They entered it, found no one at home, and made themselves...

    • Halfway House
      (pp. 103-118)

      WHY do the novels of immigrant pioneering so largely center about ordeals? About grimness, frustration, despair?

      I suspect that writers of fiction, notably of fiction purporting to be realistic, are persuaded that readers will not be gripped by recitals presenting anything less harrowing than dramatic ordeals. Possibly they are right in their view. There is no denying that ordeal is part of the total story. The men and women who came from the Old World knew hardship and made sacrifices, from the initial cutting of home ties to the fight with the wilderness. Their saga includes long voyages across the...


    • The Fashionable Tour
      (pp. 121-134)

      FROM the days of trail blazer and trader to those of lumberman, farmer, and town builder, rivers have been of great importance to the Northwest; and one in particular captured the imagination of the pioneers —the Mississippi. It was the path of explorer and voyageur, the line of steamboat pageantry, the route of incoming settlers, the link of frontier with civilization. To all it was dignified by the term “the river,” and it is still “the river” — great in its sweep from Itasca to the sea, great in its span of the nation's history, great too in its role...

    • Word Hunters
      (pp. 135-141)

      ON A spring day in 1834, the steamboatWarriorpuffed its way to the landing at old Fort Snelling, and two young Connecticut Yankees, Samuel William Pond and his brother Gideon Hollister Pond, stepped ashore.

      They were laymen who had been converted in a New England revival three years earlier and were now seeking a field for missionary work among the Sioux, or Dakota, Indians of the Northwest. They were without experience as missionaries, had no official backing, lacked even a government permit to enter the Indian country, and did not know the language of the people whose conversion and...

    • Attic Inventory
      (pp. 142-148)

      ONE evening in April 1854 an Indiana man hammered a final nail into the lid of a box and declared his packing finished. At midnight he and his wife and children would board a packet for Minnesota Territory. The long and hard job of getting ready was done. Before setting out for the wharf, he stopped to write a few lines in his diary.

      The Hoosier said that Minnesota was a land for which he felt a “buoyant hope of future Happiness.” It was not easy for him to leave his home community of Wabash, however, and he told why:...

    • Everyday Life as Advertised
      (pp. 149-165)

      IN THE busy search of historians for materials illuminating the past, the newspaper advertisement is not infrequently neglected. It is well to be reminded by Professor Lucy M. Salmon, who has written a scholarly book on newspapers as historical sources, that the advertisement “serves the historian in every part of his effort to reconstruct the past,” and that it is “an invaluable record in the reconstruction of the normal life of the past, — invaluable, because in large part unconsciously made and recording not only material conditions but even more clearly the intellectual and moral conditions from which they have...

    • On the Stir!
      (pp. 166-174)

      THE whole town is on the stir,” wrote a St. Paul editor in 1849. “Stores, hotels, houses, are projected and built in a few days. California is forgotten, and the whole town is rife with the exciting spirit of advancement.”

      Five years later another journalist exclaimed, “Enclose St. Paul, indeed! Fence in a prairie fire! Dam up Niagara! Bail out Lake Superior! Tame a wolf! Civilize Indians! Attempt any other practical thing; but not to set metes and bounds to the progress of St. Paul!”

      These are typical notes from the American frontier in the middle of the nineteenth century....

    • Frontier Bookshelves
      (pp. 175-186)

      A PICNIC was held under the pines at Minnesota Point on Lake Superior one summer evening in 1856. Among the pioneers present were some who, notwithstanding a certain amount of scoffing by the citizens of the rival town of Superior, Wisconsin, anticipated the emergence of an important Minnesota city at the head of Lake Superior and were interested in finding a splendid and appropriate name for it.

      The story goes that the picnic was a name-selecting conference and that those who were present drank a toast to the future of the city. Community historians disagree both as to the picnic...

    • They Came, They Saw, They Recorded
      (pp. 187-205)

      IN THAT most famous of all essays on American history in which Frederick Jackson Turner analyzes the significance of the frontier, he invites us to stand at Cumberland Gap “and watch the procession of civilization, marching single file.” In the march are Indian, fur-trader, hunter, cattle-raiser, and farmer, but one does not see the frontier scientist — the man of maps and instruments.

      Yet wherever there were frontiers, whether of land or of spirit, the men of science were familiar figures. They came, they saw, they recorded; and to them we owe a singular debt of gratitude.

      In the spring...

    • From Cottage to Clinic
      (pp. 206-218)

      IT IS pleasant to recall that the institutions where men and women in white serve the sick and suffering take their name from a Latin word relating to a guest. The saga of these institutions in America and throughout the world is one of sacrifice and service and devotion in the humane tradition of hospitality, but it is more: it is also a saga of pioneering, of professional and scientific advance, and of public enlightenment. And it is bound up with folk history.

      The outlines of a great national, human story that has not been told in all its richness...

    • I Moved among Men
      (pp. 219-242)

      THE outstanding event of the political campaign of 1860 in the Northwest was the visit of William H. Seward, the Republican leader who, defeated by Lincoln for the presidential nomination, generously took the stump for his rival in a strenuous speech-making tour.

      In the party that accompanied Seward were Charles Francis Adams, who was later appointed by Lincoln United States minister to Great Britain, and his son, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., who later became a distinguished historian. The younger Adams tells in his autobiography of the visit paid by Seward to Boston and Quincy after his defeat at the Chicago...


    • A Bid for Cooperation
      (pp. 245-256)

      AS EARLY as 1908 Clarence Walworth Alvord, a statesman of scholarship gifted with imagination, asked American historians to give heed to the richness and variety of subjects that still needed “to be worked over, especially outside the military and political fields.”

      He urged them to investigate institutional development and economic life. He called for studies of agriculture, manufacture, and the means of communication. Pointing out the need for critical histories of immigrant groups, he drew attention to the importance of tracing “the transformation of foreign communities into American.” Trained in the history of the Renaissance, he had the vision of...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 257-260)
  9. Index
    (pp. 261-266)