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IHRC's Activity Builds on "Minnesota School of Immigration History"

By Haven Hawley, Acting Director

During my first year as IHRC program director in 2007-2008, I became aware of how my work expresses continuity with the partnerships and programs initiated and sustained by Donna Gabaccia, Rudi Vecoli and their predecessors in the “Minnesota School of Immigration History.?

This year I have the pleasure of serving as acting director of the IHRC, a unit of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, during the 2008-2009 sabbatical of Donna Gabaccia. I look forward to promoting partnerships with local and international institutions documenting migration, programs for ethnic communities, and research services for scholars at the U and around the world.

The IHRC’s research agenda focuses on how individuals experience migration and cultural identity across the boundaries of nations and time periods. Whether by promoting a greater understanding of large-scale immigration or by remaining vigilant yet innovative in our caretaking of historical materials entrusted to us, our work builds upon the work of others.

Donna Gabaccia has been at the helm of the IHRC for three years; our past director, Rudi Vecoli, retired after serving for nearly four decades at the IHRC; and before them, and before the IHRC, the University of Minnesota was the fertile ground in which immigration history as a field was seeded and thrived.

Our community has gone through a tremendous loss this year with the passing of Rudi Vecoli. His imprint upon the IHRC was profound, and I am reminded nearly every day of how the partnerships and programs that I carry forward often are the fruit of labors begun years ago. We welcome your remembrances of Rudi as contributions to the IHRC tribute page.

The passion that Rudi brought to the mission of preserving and creating access to ethnic materials continued the work of George Stephenson and Theodore Blegen dating from the early 20th century. It is important to note the recurring theme of the personal and the global, of the individual and large historical events, and of how ethnic self-awareness lies at the heart of working in concert across ethnic identity so that all histories may be preserved.

My outreach efforts and the IHRC’s work toward closer relations with diaspora studies centers around the world stem from the conceptual outlook of these scholars. The IHRC’s correspondence files with diverse centers and ethnic communities often go back decades, initiated by personal connections made by Rudi Vecoli, Joel Wurl, Timo Riippa, and Heather Muir, as well as our long-time staff member Halyna Myroniuk and, with “only? seven years at the IHRC, Daniel Necas. Continuity in the midst of change, indeed.

These personal connections resulted in a long-term commitment by and trust of the IHRC, keeping the University of Minnesota’s students and scholars in contact with ethnic communities and unique historical materials.

I recently culled from IHRC correspondence files a letter from the Latvian publisher Hugo Skrastins to Director Vecoli that could have been written today, rather than three decades ago:

“Being a historian myself, I have discovered along the American countryside a tremendous amount of material showing the different nationalities and the cultural values they brought to this country…. All of this material will disappear in a decade or two if it is not documented today.?

Each generation feels the urgency of preserving the material culture and intellectual legacies of its cultural footprint, and that continues to be as true today as in the 1970s.

At the IHRC, it is our goal to encourage more people to consider themselves historians and to become aware that all of us have a great interest in understanding the experiences of those who have come before us. As we at the IHRC continue our decades-long tradition of bringing together scholars and public communities, we stand on the shoulders of those who themselves stood on the shoulders of others.