Pastcasts

Echos of the U.S.-Dakota War

On Tuesday evening, August 22nd, the Brown County Historical Society and the New Ulm Public Library will host the Hoisington Film Festival. It begins at 7 p.m. at the New Ulm Public Library and admission is free. That is a traditional week set aside for lectures and tours about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The evening will feature three short films. Never Shall I Forget is the story of the battles of New Ulm told completely through the words of participants. It is featured in the BCHS Erd basement installation, but it has never been shown elsewhere and never on a large screen. The second film is Turner Hall 1862. The Turners were the driving force behind the settlement of New Ulm. They were idealists who had a vision of the type of society that they wanted to build here. Did they succeed? This documentary will look at the Turner Hall on the eve of the battles of New Ulm. Finally, we’ll present The Truth in History: Remembering Elden Lawrence. Dr. Lawrence was a fine historian who through his abilities and compassion taught others about the U.S.-Dakota War. The evening concludes with a question-and-answer session.

Meet Us at the Fair


We are proud to announce the publication of Meet Us at the Fair: A History of the Brown County Fair. 2017 is the 150th anniversary of the Brown County Fair — long recognized as one of the best in the state. Organized in 1867, it has been an important annual event for generations. In this book, written by historian Daniel J. Hoisington, you’ll learn about the people who made it happen. Over the years, the fair was the chance to enjoy a grandstand show, whether it was a country and western singer, a neck-and-neck horse race, or a demolition derby. To young people, the fair meant hard work to compete for a blue ribbon. For others, it offered the thrill of a ride on the Midway, eating a bag of mini-donuts, or dancing to the sounds of a local band. For ordering information: https://www.browncountyfreefair.com

Never Shall I Forget: Brown County and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

In 2012, I helped to organize, write, and design the award-winning exhibit, Never Shall I Forget: Brown County and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, for the Brown County Historical Society in New Ulm, Minnesota. We made creative use of iPads to bring differing perspectives to the story. We will be uploading supplementary information to our YouTube channel over the next several weeks, beginning with the thoughts of the late Elden Lawrence on the cultural perspectives of the Dakota and the newly-immigrated German settlers of Brown County. Elden was fine scholar, a sharp observer of history, and a generous spirit.

A Homeland Transplanted

A Homeland Transplanted Trailer from Pastcasts on Vimeo.

The German-Bohemian Heritage Society will present the documentary, A Homeland Transplanted: German Bohemians in America, on Saturday, August 29, 2015, at the New Ulm Public Library. The film begins at 10 a.m. and admission is free.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, immigrants from German-speaking Bohemia came to America, with many settling near New Ulm, Minnesota. There, they lived on farms in the surrounding townships and in neighborhoods like Goosetown and the Wallachei. They brought the folkways of their homeland with them to the new world. Today, the traces of that culture — their Heimat — linger. Many recall the use of the “Böhmish” dialect at home or in the fields. At the family table, bread dumplings with horseradish gravy or “schmierkucken” are still a part of their family fare. Older members of the community carry on crafts such as music-making and klöppeled lace.

Based on extensive oral history interviews, this documentary tells the story of a homeland transplanted.

Edinborough Productions
Produced and written by Daniel J. Hoisington 122 minutes
$16.95 plus free shipping.
Order online with easy checkout at www.germanbohemianheritagesociety.com

Stillwater: The City of Beautiful Homes

I’ve just completed a new pastcast series for the Stillwater Heritage Preservation Commission. This year, we selected eighteen properties in the Chestnut Hill and Pine Street neighborhoods. There are some architectural gems and every home has a story. I’ve posted this example: the home of Henry and Nancy Nichols. I first encountered their story nearly two decades ago when I wrote the history of Chanhassen on the occasion of its centennial. The Nichols and the Clevelands were part of the Northampton Colony that came from Massachusetts to settle in Minnesota in the 1850s, and the Clevelands ended up in what is now Chanhassen. The story has a tragic ending.

The complete series will be released in September. The downtown series, released last year, won a 2014 National Alliance of Preservation Commissions (NAPC) Excellence Award.

Past is Present: Ken Burns’ iPad App

In his essay, “The Art of Fiction,” Henry James said that all writing has two parts: the idea and the execution. He wrote, “We must grant the artist his subject, his idea, what the French call his donnée; our criticism is applied only to what he makes of it.” For more than thirty years, documentarian Ken Burns has looked at American history through his lens. Through the 1980s, his vision of the past developed in films such as The Statue of Liberty and Huey Long, culminating in his breakthrough series, The Civil War. That is the idea. The execution has become just as well-known: the voiceover quoting period sources; the wistful, sometimes jaunty, often haunting musical score; and, of course, the pan-and-scan technique now known as “the Ken Burns effect.”

With the release of his iPad app, Burns tries to repackage the donnée, using technology that did not exist when he began filmmaking. Essentially, the iPad app is a collection of clips from past films, but arranged so the body of his work — thirty plus years of film — can interact in new ways. You can view them chronologically, through a timeline, or via a series of playlists each centered in a particular theme, like race or art. This breaks the narrative thread and places you in the realm of the donnée.

I’ve watched every minute of Ken Burns’s work — often multiple times — so I know the stories. What I can do, though, is follow the idea — race, for example — developed through each of his films. The app is enhanced by new video comments by Burns. In his films, you might watch the ideas develop over ten or more hours. I think of the issue of race, for example, as shown in the Baseball series. In the app, he hammers home the ideas in newly-filmed short clips — this is what I was saying. I can watch four hours of Mark Twain and, in the end, grow aware of how funny his writing remains. (Read Finley Peter Dunne to understand how unusual that is.) Here, Burns comes on and says that in a brief summary.

This is a worthy experiment. It would be interesting, in the future, to be able to easily compare other documentarians with Burns — how a single historical event might be viewed through different lights and shadows.

An Interview with Lorraine Oswald

One of my favorite projects during the last year was the opportunity to interview Lorraine Oswald. Her words were thoughtful, retrospective, funny, and generous in their view of human foibles. What a pleasure to hear someone else’s story.

The interview was completed for the Junior Pioneers of New Ulm and Vicinity and shown at their fall meeting. When I first heard of the Junior Pioneers, I expected to see something like Boy or Girl Scouts for history. Imagine my surprise when I learned that they were not so young. The JPs are a century-old organization of the descendants of the white settlers of Brown County. Through the years, they have been advocates for history, sponsoring public presentations, historical markers, and publications. Take a look at the interview with Lorraine and remember the Junior Pioneer’s contributions over the years.

A Short History of the History Documentary

Clio and the Camera from DSTspring10 on Vimeo.

I’ve been thinking about form of the “modern” history documentary. The format that has come to dominate the field — certainly the PBS “American Experience” documentaries is the Ken Burns approach. It includes the use of historical photographs, using pan and scan, plus interspersed “talking heads” providing commentary or telling a story. This format has come to dominate the field — certainly the PBS “American Experience” documentaries.

I came across this interesting ten-minute survey of the history documentary, Clio and the Camera, completed by Andrea Odiorne, a student at George Mason University. It traces the changing styles of telling history via moving images, not only in format but also in technology. As someone who has created nearly 200 short form history documentaries — pastcasts — I wonder how the advent of the portable viewing device might change how the next generation documents history.

Whitewater Shaker Village

J. P. Maclean, a historian, set about researching the Shakers in 1903, traveling across southern Ohio. He wrote about his first glimpse of Union Village, a Shaker community located near Harrison, Ohio: “When I caught sight of the first house, my opinion was confirmed that I was on the lands of the Shakers, for the same style of architecture, solid appearance and want of decorative art was before me.” The University of Cincinnati, through their Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites, is doing some exciting work in using virtual reality to interpret history. Using tools like Google Sketch-up, students have recreated the exterior and interior of buildings in the Whitewater (Ohio) Shaker Village. While not the revelation that Mr. Maclean had, it opens a new perspective into the “land of the Shakers.”

CERHAS has used the approach to create a fascinating website about ancient Troy, complete with a virtual tour. Visit:

I’d like to see a historic downtown streetscape created for a Main Street Community.

Downtown Stillwater

The St. Paul Pioneer Press has a great story in today’s edition, with reporter Mary Divine looking at the city’s new podcast walking tour. City planner Abbi Jo Wittman said of the series, “From the city’s standpoint, they’re designed as part of the public-education program. They are a tool to help residents and visitors of all ages. I’ve already been contacted by a local teacher who would like to use them as part of a Minnesota history class.”

And Divine picked out a quote that summarizes my philosophy. “Each town has its own very interesting story,” [Hoisington] said. “You just have to listen a little bit, and it becomes evident what makes that town special.”