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Visit to the Minnesota History Center

November 20, 2012

Wow, what an amazing trip! Today I had the opportunity to take a peek at some of the books in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection. There’s quite an amazing range! I went with the bookmaking class I’m currently taking, so we focused on artist books, but the curator also showed us some really old books and maps, as well as a quick tour of what he calls the Batcave–the room where all the archives are stored. Think the warehouse from Indiana Jones, and you’ll be close.

Unfortunately, all I had with me was my phone, which takes terrible colour photos.

An oversize, antique book lays propped on a table. The pages are open to an engraving.

One of the largest books we looked at. I am a bad student and forgot who made it or the date it was created, but it was made before Minnesota was a state. The drawings were documentation of an expedition.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of the oldest books in the collection. One is from the 1490s. The pages were surprisingly supple, and it was printed in Latin and Italian in Venice. The other is one of the original books by Father Hennepin, who explored Minnesota (at least, that what I was told–not being a Minnesota native, I’m not up to snuff on my local history). It had fold-out illustrations and maps that were highly detailed, including one that included a buffalo and a possum hanging from a tree.

A portrait-oriented view of a long hallway, lined with rows of boxes on shelves.

Part of the main hall of the “Batcave.” Each of those offshoot rows is lined almost to the ceiling with boxes, each containing archived books, maps, newspapers, and ephemera. The room wasn’t actually magenta, I promise you.

Another view of the long hallway. A fire extinguisher hangs on the wall.


A black and white photo of stacks of boxes on metal shelving.

This might give you a better sense of scale.

An older man in a button-down shirt and tie stands in front of a shelf of boxes. His arms are crossed.

The curator, who was one of the most personable men I’ve ever met.

A tall, slender corridor between a shelf of boxes and a wall.

To give you an idea how off my camera is/was, this forklift was lime green.

Freight elevator with horizontal doors.

This elevator was the coolest.

View of freight elevator interior.

20,000 lb capacity, if I remember correctly.

A moderately inaccurate map of Lake Superior.

To paraphrase the curator, all maps lie. This map, from 1755, was made during a French expedition. The artist, knowing his employers would never go out to the region, added a few…embellishments, let’s call them. It actually took me a moment to realize the obvious flaws, as I was too caught up in the weird shape of Superior’s nose.

Such a treat!




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