Philadelphia is commonly referred to as the birthplace of America. This is not surprising given that it is the location where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were written. This claim, however, is contested by a small town in Minnesota. A large fiberglass Viking statue towering over Alexandria boldly declares that “America” began in what is now the American Midwest. My book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America tells the story of how the unearthing of a mysterious runic artifact from an immigrant farmers’ field in 1898 inspired a myth that challenged many of the orthodoxies of U.S. history. Although the rune stone was declared by most scholars to be fraudulent, Minnesotans used the artifact to argue that their region was as significant to American history as the traditionally historic tourist destinations of Philadelphia and Boston. Read chapter three of Myths of the Rune Stone to learn more about the civic and regional aspect of the Kensington Rune Stone story.
Last night, I had the privilege of speaking at the monthly Nerd Nite gathering held at Frankford Hall in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. My talk centered on how the rune stone story exemplifies that America’s preoccupation with discovery myths and birthplace narratives often serve to marginalize the history of North America’s first residents. Additionally, I noted that Kensington Rune Stone phenomenon demonstrates that Americans have long struggled to discern the difference between history and myth, science and pseudoscience. I think these themes appealed to the Nerd Nite crowd, which is often comprised of grad students, scholars, and others interested in history, science and popular culture.
Myths of the Rune Stone has been getting a lot of attention in Minnesota over the past month. My latest interview went out to 45 radio stations last weekend! Additionally, it has started to get national attention thanks to a review at the blog Religion Dispatches. I’m glad that the book has finally made its Philly debut. Please do contact me if you would like me to speak at an event in the Philadelphia region.