Title Reviewed:
A History of Minnesota

Author Reviewed:
William Watts Folwell

Donald F. Carmony


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 343-344

Article Type:
Book Review

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A History of Minnesota, Volume I. Revised edition. By William Watts Folwell. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1956. Pp. xx, 533. Appendix and index. $6.50.)

When this book appeared in 1921 as the first of Professor Folwell's four-volume history of Minnesota, a reviewer in this magazine, doubtless its editor Logan Esarey, wrote: "It is a pleasure to turn from the deluge of historical trash thrown on the market at present to the work of an honest historian. Dr. Folwell has at his elbow the collections of the Minnesota Historical society. He was president of Minnesota university from 1869 to 1884, was a soldier in the Civil war, and has been actively employed in governmental duties for near a half century. Besides thus understanding his state and his people and besides having a personal acquaintance with the geography of his state, he writes in a pleasing style. The volume under review covers the territorial period, from the appearance of Radisson and Groseilliers, about 1660, down to the constitutional convention in 1857."

Since 1921 this volume has become a classic for Minnesota history prior to statehood. Having been out of print for some years, its reissue on the eve of Minnesota's centennial of statehood (1958) is doubly appropriate. Often episodical and much prone to generalization and broad interpretations, it has numerous insights and shrewd evaluations. In this reissue "no attempt has been made to incorporate newly discovered sources or to bring Folwell's interpretations up to date in the light of subsequent research. Only minor errors have been corrected, and new maps and illustrations have been added" (p. vii).

As indicated in the introduction, "recent scholarship has illustrated wide avenues in the history of exploration and the fur trade—two fields in which this volume is perhaps especially vulnerable to re-examination" (p. ix). Moreover, the last three to four decades have brought augmented knowledge about the Indians, early settlements, and the like, but neither foreknowledge nor hindsight are gifts which Clio bestows on even her most capable disciples!

Professor Folwell completed his four-volume history of Minnesota in 1929, the year of his death when he was ninety six. He was nearing ninety when the first volume appeared. For six decades he was active in Minnesota affairs; his fifteen years as president of the University of Minnesota were followed by more than two decades as a professor of political science and librarian on the faculty until his "retirement" in 1907. Even those who can correct or improve portions of his multi-volume history will find in his volumes much information and wisdom not elsewhere available. Persons desiring the complete set should secure it through the Minnesota Historical Society.

Donald F. Carmony Indiana University

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.