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Italians in Michigan coverNMU Involved in Michigan Ethnic Book Series

NMU faculty and alumni have contributed to a book series on the rich multicultural heritage of the Great Lakes State. The Discovering the Peoples of Michigan collection is published by the Michigan State University Press. It explores the unique contributions that varied and often unrecognized communities have made to Michigan’s historical and social identity. Russ Magnaghi (History) is the series editor. He said the MSU Press originally envisioned a single large volume with short pieces on the various ethnic groups, but he suggested a different direction for a more thorough treatment. 

“I knew of a couple other states doing similar things, but with a series of smaller books dedicated to each group,” Magnaghi said. “That way more space could be devoted to each in terms of why they came to Michigan, how they settled in, their customs, the lodges or clubs that sprang up, the establishment of ethnic churches and newspapers and, of course, ethnic foods. We’ve seen a lot on Finns and also on Germans, who had a tremendous population in Michigan before World War I. But for many of these groups, little if anything has been written. The books are easy to digest. They’re written for a general audience and run about 100 pages.”

A book from the series might make a nice holiday gift for those with Michigan ties eager to learn more about their ethnic heritage. Titles follow the format of Scandinavians in Michigan or Albanians in Michigan. In addition to his editorial guidance, Magnaghi has written books on the Italians and Cornish. He collaborated with colleague Howard Nicholson (History) and alumnus Anders Gillis on the Danes and Icelanders and is currently working on the French and the Sanmarinazi. The latter came from the Republic of San Marino, a 32-square mile country located on the Italian Peninsula.

Other faculty members who have completed or been recruited to write books are: Rebecca Mead (History), Swedes; Robert Goodrich  (History), Austro-Hungarians; Joseph Lubig (Education, Leadership and Public Service), Maltese; Dennis Badaczewski (retired Education), Poles; and Chet DeFonso (History), English. Former student Marius Grazulis completed the Lithuanians edition and two alumni, Robert Archibald and Jay Brennan, are working on the Chinese and Japanese versions.

Magnaghi said some of the perhaps more obscure groups highlighted in the series include Haitians, Hungarians, Amish, Yankees from New England, Scots, Slavs, Chaldeans and Egyptian Copts.

“The Icelanders were interesting; there have been only 30 in Michigan,” he added. “We discovered in writing that book that one of their ethnic food-related customs was putting caraway seeds in brewed coffee. It’s pretty good. An Icelander-Canadian and former math faculty member who was at Northern in the '60s, Beatrice Boynton, sponsored the Egilsson family. Son Halldor came to Northern and, to my knowledge, is the only Icelandic immigrant who graduated from NMU. He lives in Menominee.”

The series features more than 30 completed works, with about 10 more to be added. To see the titles available for purchase, visit MSU Press.