"Archivists remind everybody that everybody has a story," says Michigan Technological University Archivist Lindsay Hiltunen, winner of the 2018 Historical Society of Michigan Charles Follo Award. It's an honor made sweeter because her grandfather won the same award in 1986.
Hiltunen, recognized for outstanding contributions to the preservation and promotion of Upper Peninsula history, grew up in a historic Copper Country mining town in a historic miner's house filled with a love of history and books. "History is certainly in the DNA. My grandpa was a historian and a professor of history, and my dad is a civil war buff," she says.
Her childhood home in Tamarack City is next door to mining ruins. "My stomping grounds were a walk through the past," she says. "My sister and I would build forts on the mill site. We would ride our bikes down to the old Ahmeek stamp mill in Tamarack, and we would go adventuring around there. It was just a part of my upbringing."
She wants to bring that sense of wonder to kids today. It's fitting that Hiltunen won an award named for Charles Follo, an Escanaba, Michigan teacher who worked to establish historical societies and promote UP history. She sees the archives as an essential resource for schools that want to include local and state history components in their programs.
"Hiltunen transformed the Michigan Technological University Archives and enhanced the access, research, and outreach programs. As the university archivist, she introduced the university’s archival collections to K-12 students with school programs and activities, spearheaded projects focusing on underrepresented aspects of Upper Peninsula history, and worked with newsrooms to introduce Upper Peninsula topics into stories and news features throughout the state."
"I really like to get youth excited about history," she says. "From fourth grade on up, this can be their first time thinking about primary sources. They can look at history, they can touch it, they can experience it." Primary sources are materials that contain firsthand accounts of events. Some examples: letters, diaries, photos and business records.
The scope of archives outreach encompasses more than a dozen schools in the western Upper Peninsula, including sponsorship of the District 1 competition for Michigan History Day. The archives team also participates in the annual Copper TRACES program at Keweenaw National Historical Park, a three-day event that educates hundreds of Upper Peninsula elementary students. Along with park archivist Jeremiah Mason, the Michigan Tech Archives staff teaches fourth-graders about primary sources, especially how to interpret historic photographs.
But there's challenge in figuring out how to reach schools in both geographically and technologically distant areas. "How do we get students in Ironwood to know what our archives have? We look at ways to let them know about our digital tools, like the online repository," she says. And in the case of students without access to libraries, "how do we get them something similar to that brick-and-mortar space?" That is still a question open to consideration. Interested in reaching out to schools across the six-county area of the western Upper Peninsula, the archivists at Michigan Tech have their work cut out for them.
The archives are housed in Michigan Tech's J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library. Interim Library Director Jill Hodges, who nominated Hiltunen for the award, sees a positive impact across generations. “Lindsay's work with schools exposes a large number of students to primary sources while also bringing to life the work of an archivist and its importance to us all,” says Hodges. “Her belief in providing visibility for regional history is apparent in the excellent work she does, along with her team in the Michigan Tech Archives, as they showcase the university's valuable and available archival resources."
The archives team, including Hiltunen, archivists Allison Neely and Emily Riippa and archives assistant Allyse Staehler, is exploring ways to connect with youth across the local district and beyond. "The team truly believes in embracing the philosophy of 'All Ages Archives,' ” says Hiltunen. Neely and Riippa participated in the Harwood Cohort Public Innovator’s Workshop and mentoring program in 2016-2017, bringing back valuable tools to help archives staff think outwardly and formalize their outreach strategies.
Family History, Copper Country History, Husky History
Hiltunen grew up surrounded by the elements that would influence her career. Her grandfather, David Halkola, taught history at Suomi College (the present-day Finlandia University) and in 1954 became the college's first lay president. He went on to teach at Michigan Tech until his retirement in 1988. Active in the history community, he was part of the initiative to help establish Keweenaw National Historical Park and served on many community and state history boards—like him, Hiltunen is on the Quincy Mine Hoist Association Board. “He did a lot of grant writing and advocacy for Fort Wilkins when I was growing up. He modeled the concept of being generous with your time and following your passion. He really cared about teaching, also outside of the classroom," she says, noting that he even co-hosted a radio show with Dr. Harold Nufer called “Current Topics” on WGGL.
“My grandpa passed in 2009," says Hiltunen. "He has oral histories that he conducted that are back in our stacks. When I really miss him, I can turn on a tape and hear his voice."
To share and authenticate and interpret the history of the stories she grew up hearing about is a privilege and pleasure.
“I love my colleagues, I love this space and I love the Copper Country,” says Hiltunen, who also considers travel an important part of the archive team's mission. She's presented everywhere from regional conferences to an International Finnish Oral History Network Symposium in Helsinki. "Archivists are a relatively small group. Networking is important to ensure best practices and for leveraging resources. We've had some success with grants, and it helps to get out of the basement every once in a while," she says, laughing. Hiltunen proudly notes that Neely recently presented a paper on archives instruction at the Midwest Archives Conference and Riippa was an active participant at the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference.
Archives Access for All
"We're not just books, we're not just a pencils-only white-glove archive, we're out there in the world and we care about sharing what we have."
"Our mission is to collect, preserve and provide not just access, but meaningful access," she says. "Not everyone has the same ability to get here in the physical space. Or to know how the archives could benefit them, and how can you use primary sources. Archives aren’t just for historians or people writing history papers. They have benefit for a wide range of professions, fields and disciplines."
The archives team has deep pockets of expertise. For example, archivist Emily Rippa specializes in genealogy—her knowledge enriches the genealogical services provided by the team. Families come to the archives year 'round to research their histories, but summer is an especially popular time. Riippa's metadata training helps the department improve descriptive practices. Neely's archival acumen with audiovisual materials, particularly film and photographs, is another strength. Neely is also continuing her education to benefit the department; she recently completed Copper Country history and maple sugaring courses offered by the University.
Going Social: Sharing the UP with the World
Hiltunen, a Michigan Tech alumna, came to the archives in 2014 from the District of Columbia with an enduring loyalty for the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals ("That (Stanley Cup) wave for me hasn't crashed yet!"), with shorter stints at George Mason University, Western Illinois University Archives and Finlandia University. Her experiences gave her a sense of how to leverage digital connectivity: the DC Public Library system, where she started her professional career, uses social media as an outreach tool.
"It's an effective way to engage with different audiences," she says, "maybe those who wouldn't be coming in the door normally or know that you exist. Things can get shared so easily. We've even found donors through Facebook Messenger." The team pitches in to run the platforms.
On Twitter @mtuarchives, there's a playful mix of regular features and vintage photos: Map Monday, Travel Tuesday, Flashback Friday and history polls. The University also joins in the fun of the National Archives #archiveshashtagparty, a way for the relatively small archives community around the nation to learn more about different collections, best practices and share cool ideas. On June 1, the archives launched on Instagram @michigantecharchives, featuring a behind-the-scenes, day-in-the-life look at collections being processed, offsite assessments, gatherings and fieldwork.
The Michigan Tech Archives are also on Facebook, and the Archives Blog offers a blend of historical perspectives and news.
Current Collections, Future Wishlist
One of Hiltunen's favorite projects is also one of the most critically acclaimed: "Black Voices in the Copper Country: Exploring Community and Michigan Tech Campus Life, 1850-1990." The in-depth investigation of archival materials related to the African American experience in the Keweenaw, initially funded by the Michigan Humanities Council, is ongoing, including an oral history component and collaboration with the Michigan History Center and Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion. "Black Voices" touches the core of one of Hiltunen's strongest passions: bringing to light the underrepresented voices of those purposely or accidentally excluded through records or interpretation.
Are there gaps in the archives? Or any areas she'd like to expand?
"We're pretty well stacked in terms of the industrial collections," says Hiltunen. The Quincy Mining Company, Calumet & Hecla Mining Companies and Copper Range alone encompass thousands of boxes and flat file drawers of material.
Collection categories Hiltunen sees as ripe for growth:
Women's History—Looking at the female experience in this part of the state, be it tied to the area's industrial story, through the social lens, and particularly in the campus experience.
Environmental history—Hiltunen sees "a huge area" for potential collection growth, particularly the industrial aftermath in the southern part of the Lake Superior basin, including the implications of logging, commercial fishing and hard-rock mining, including social aspects. Continuing collection of materials related to the long-running wolf-moose study and the local environment is a vital piece of the current collection-development strategy.
Underrepresented Voices—An outgrowth of the continuing "Black Voices" project, Hiltunen wants to capture a broad array of untold or partially framed stories, including ethnic and gender identities, and the work of local advocacy groups.
"Maybe that will be the legacy that I will leave here," she says.
Organizing All the Things
There's a table in Hiltunen's office stacked with interesting looking objects and papers. It begs the question: doesn't all the stuff get overwhelming? Not if you set your priorities, says Hiltunen. "It’s always going to ebb and flow; it’s always going to be that way," she says. "That is merely the nature of archival work." It probably helps that she's a collector with a yen for vinyl (the collection is more than 4,000 strong and putting a record on the turntable is part of the former Dollar Bay High School sax player's home-from-work routine).
While the archives don't have a budget for buying items, there is a very generous community of donors who have contributed to the university’s archival collections. All the acquisitions are donated and accepted according to collection priorities. The filled table will take several months to sift, organize and describe. "But once it’s organized we have a very systemized setup," she says. "Organizing is key."
Individual stories matter, says Hiltunen. "We hear things like, 'Oh I found these things in an attic and I don't know what they mean,' or 'They're just my grandma's papers.' For us, if it meets our collection scope, we 100-percent want it for our collection, whether it's a personal story, an institutional story, or business records from an agency or firm."
Hiltunen wants people to know that archives matter, too. On a national scope, "I hope that grant sponsors and the people that are running programs in libraries know that we're essential," she says. "Knowledge of history is so essential. If you're going to use history as evidence to explain a choice that you're making, understand that you're coming at it from a point where you've critically engaged with that history and made sense of it, rather than just repeating something that you 'may' have heard somewhere. Build an opinion that's based on something of value. Dig deeper."
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.