Talking Vikings at the Minnesota History Center

Last night I had the privilege of speaking at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul Minnesota. It is the home of the Minnesota Historical Society. While I was researching for my book Myths of the Rune Stone Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America, I spent many days here reading newspaper microfilm and scores of other historical documents. The event had been scheduled to take place in a smaller seminar room, but they had to move it to the main auditorium because of the crowd (167 in attendance!) I think that Mike Mullen’s recent article in the Minneapolis City Pages generated a lot of interest. Many thanks to Danielle Dart, coordinator of public programs for lifelong learners, for making this event possible. You can listen to the podcast above.

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Although I have given numerous presentations on the book since its release last October, I made a special effort to locate the Kensington Rune Stone story in the long history of the American obsession with pre-Columbian Vikings in North America. Although we didn’t have credible evidence of a Norse presence in North America until the discovery of Newfoundland’s L’Anse aux Meadows archaeological site in 1960, some white Americans went to great lengths to prove Vikings reached as far south as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and even as far west as Minnesota. They used this American “pre-history” to address anxieties related to the nation’s growing racial diversity and the troubled way that white Americans came to terms with living on land once occupied by someone else. The Kensington Rune Stone must be understood within this context. Additionally, my talk addressed the question of the artifact’s authenticity and the status of science literacy in American culture today. Information on Mike Scholtz’s documentary film Lost Conquest can be found here. CORRECTION: I mistakenly described Tom Trow as a geologist. He is actually an archaeologist. A link to his article debunking Holand’s rune stone theory can be found here.

I also include a short video below. A young woman posed a question about myths. She joked that her grandmother was very excited about her coming to see my presentation until she heard the title. She asked about how people cope when they learn that their myths are proven to be false. Here’s my answer…

Minnesota’s Favorite Myth

City Pages article April 2016Welcome to the the website for Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America. Mike Mullen of the Minneapolis City Pages just published an article today titled  “Why the Kensington Runestone is Minnesota’s Favorite Myth.”  The article comes out just in time to promote my next speaking event at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul on Tuesday, April 19 at 7:00 pm. The event is open and free to the public. Visit the Facebook Event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/990162487725703/

Feel free to browse this website for many resources, articles, podcasts, and videos related to the book. You can also visit my author website at https://davidkrueger.org/.

 

Why Myths Matter to Americans

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From left to right: Nate Wright, Katie Oxx, Dave Krueger, Jim McIntire, and Jon Pahl.

For an author, it is always gratifying when someone reads your book carefully and takes the time to prepare a thoughtful response. Last week, Myths of the Rune Stone, was featured in a forum dedicated to the theme of American myths. Two historians, a sociologist, and a theologian delivered outstanding presentations on the relevance of the book for reflecting on important dimensions of U.S. history, religion, and culture.

The “Why Myths Matter” forum is the second in a two-year series of forums dedicated to the theme of American myths. It was held on February 24, 2016 at the Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia PA. Click hereto view information on the entire series. Speakers are listed below along with a guide to navigate the podcast. You can fast forward using the the arrow keys on your keyboard. I hope you enjoy it!

1:00 – Welcome and short reflection by Rev. Robin Hynicka – Jeremiah 10

6:18 – Speaker introductions and overview of the book Myths of the Rune Stone – author David M. Krueger

24:50 – Dr. Jon Paul – Lutheran Theological Seminary – What about the role of fantasy and playfulness in the rune stone story? References to novelists Ole Rolvaag and Louise Erdrich.

33:00 – Dr. Nathan Wright – Bryn Mawr College – Despite the dangers of myth to exclude and dominate, they are necessary for societies to function. References to Durkheim, Bellah, and other sociologists.

45:50 – Dr. Katie Oxx – St. Joseph’s University – The ways that Catholics negotiate American identity. A comparison of the “Pope stone” and the “rune stone.” References to “new materialism.” How do material artifacts act on us?

54:00 – Rev. Jim McIntire – Havertown UMC – Myth fills a gap in public discourse. Conspiracy theorists like Scott Wolter profit handsomely from propagating myths.  Reflections Joseph Campbell’s book on myths.

1:10:50 – Audience Response

Myth Matter flyer

Thoughts on Motion Sickness, Books Tours, and Scholarly Talks in Retirement Homes

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Last week, my family and I traveled to Minnesota for a combination book tour and vacation. Flying across the country with young kids is no easy feat, and it is important to make sure you have all the necessary supplies i.e. diapers, favorite toys, etc. I’m particularly grateful for the brick of wet wipes my wife stuffed in the diaper bag at the last minute. They came in handy cleaning up the mess from our one-year-old vomiting four times (yes, four times!) in the rented car seat. Although motion sickness is a common ailment afflicting my side of the family, I think it might have been exacerbated by an overindulgence of pizza and (slightly) expired birthday cake on the plane.  The day ended a bit more smoothly than it began as my wife and I were able to attend my twentieth-year college reunion. It was great to see many old friends and I was honored to provide a copy of my book Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America as a reunion door prize.

Although I’ve lived in Philadelphia for most of twenty years, we make it a priority for our boys to spend time with their Krueger grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who still live in Minnesota. It is also good to be back on the farm where I grew up. I love watching the sun rise over the vast soybean field visible from my parent’s picture window. After spending some time Sunday and Monday with the relatives, my wife and I left the boys with my sister and traveled on Tuesday to St. Cloud, where I spoke to a group of students and faculty in the history department at St. Cloud State University. I was invited by Mary Lethert Wingerd, a well-respected historian of Minnesota who wrote a blurb for my book. She is teaching a seminar this semester on public history and wanted me to talk about the Kensington Rune Stone in terms of a civic monument  that both commemorated the deaths of Minnesota’s pioneer settlers during the Dakota War of 1862 and legitimated white claims to a landscape once occupied by someone else. It was a great experience to talk with people who had actually read the book and engaged its ideas critically.

Students and faculty from from the history department at St. Cloud State University.

Students and faculty from from the history department at St. Cloud State University.

My wife and I enjoyed an evening at the St. John’s Abbey Guest House. It is relaxing and peaceful environment and the location of a number my writing retreats in the past. In fact, my chapter on the Catholic interest in Viking origin myths was written, in part, on the St. John’s University campus. On this visit, I serendipitously met the granddaughter of one of the rune stone enthusiasts I had written about in the book. I apologized in advance if she took offense to what I said about her late grandmother. As historians, we often think we are safe writing about people who are dead, but we have to remember that we still may have to contend with their descendants!

On Wednesday, we ventured down to St. Paul where my first stop was to have coffee with one of the peer reviewers of my manuscript, Jon Butler, a former Yale University professor and perhaps one of the most recognizable names in the field of American religious history. It was great to swap stories about our experiences of growing up in rural Minnesota. Both of our fathers were farmers! After talking with Jon, we made our way to the Amsterdam Bar and Hall for a quick dinner and then proceeded to Subtext Books for my scheduled book talk. In addition to many book store patrons, several of my high school friends showed up as well. We had a robust conversation about the role that myths play in human life and what the rune stone story reveals about the anxieties, aspirations, and values of Minnesotans. [Podcast forthcoming].

While my friends gathered for drinks after the book talk, my wife and I made the two-hour trek back to Alexandria to relieve my sister of child care duty. She got to enjoy an abundance of “auntie time” with her two active nephews and I think she was finally ready to get some rest! First thing on Thursday morning, I made my way to the KXRA radio station for a live interview on a popular local talk show. That evening, I spoke at a book event sponsored by the Douglas County Historical Society. It was held at a senior living facility and was attended by a very eclectic crowd: a combination of die-hard rune stone enthusiasts, local historians, public school teachers, clergy members, former high school classmates, members of my family, and other concerned citizens who wanted to know what this hometown boy was going to say about the town he left behind. Many of the questions centered on the authenticity of the Kensington Rune Stone rather than the cultural phenomenon enveloping it. If you listen to the recording, you can hear one Viking enthusiast pelting me with questions. He later told me that through a divination ritual known as dowsing, he had discerned the exact names and burial locations of the Norsemen he claimed had visited Minnesota in 1362. Despite the digressions into pseudoscience, I was impressed that so many locals were willing to think critically about an origin myth that has defined the community for decades.

Although I enjoyed many of the parts of the book tour, I think my favorite events took place on Friday. I left early in the morning for a long drive to Minneapolis where I was interviewed by philosopher Peter Shea for a cable access TV show called “Bat of Minerva” (a Hegelian reference).  The hour-long interview is scheduled to air on a future Sunday morning at 12 am. If Minnesotans are not already asleep by that time, it is quite likely that this rather slow-paced interview with me will help them get there. Following the interview, I gave a lecture on my book at the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota. If you watch the video below, you will hear some really great questions posed by graduate students, faculty, and other scholars interested in multidisciplinary research. We had a great conversations about the distinctions between history and myth, and the relationship between religion and science. I’m especially grateful that Jeanne H. Kilde, chair of the religion department, and several prominent historians who were in attendance.

Finally, in the video, you will notice an attendee who posed several questions about why I do not consider the Kensington Rune Stone to be authentic. That person is none other than Scott Wolter, a History Channel celebrity and host of America Unearthed. Wolter is surely the most well-known and controversial figures in the rune stone story. His research methods have been criticized by many in the scientific community, including one of his former research partners. Yet, his fantastic theories about the Knights of Templar traversing the North American wilderness in the fourteenth century have piqued the interest of millions of Americans who yearn to imagine a pre-Columbian America populated by more than just Indians. You’ll have to read my book to learn more about my thoughts on the tradition of myth making in American history.

The event at the U of M was the last of my book tour for the week and I dedicated Saturday to family activities before we headed to the airport on Sunday morning. It’s a good thing we brought along extra wipes for the return trip, because, as you probably guessed, an affliction of motion sickness struck again. I couldn’t have been happier to return the car seat to the rental company. There is only so much cleaning one can do with wet wipes.


David M. Krueger is the author of Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2015. Be sure to click on the links above to listen to other interviews and talks, and read the book reviews as they are released. To find out more about the author, visit his website at http://davidkrueger.org/