Magnaghi Honored with New Book
Longtime NMU professor and university historian Russell Magnaghi (History) has been honored with the release of a new volume of essays titled Northern Border: History and Lore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Beyond. A public celebration was held June 4 with a reception and reading by four of the featured writers.
The NMU Press publication was compiled in the academic tradition of a “festschrift,” a collection of writing by colleagues, friends and students to honor a respected teacher. It marks Magnaghi’s 45 years on the NMU faculty.
“I’m humbled by this. It’s a tremendous honor and a wonderful way to pull a career together,” said Magnaghi. “Local history tells you about the space you’re in, what it means, who the people were who got it started, how it came together and how all of that influenced where things stand today. There was little narrative history about the U.P. when I arrived in 1969. I’ve been trying to ferret out stories about people and the history of places that might be ignored otherwise.
“My hope is that people will use this material as a stepping stone to expand on topics in greater depth. Some of my former students have already done that. If I could choose my legacy, it would be that I brought professionalism and rigor to the task and that I motivated others to continue this important work. There is much remaining to be discovered about the Upper Peninsula.”
Northern Border includes stories of immigrants fighting for fair working conditions in the iron and copper mines; modern-day deer hunters meditating in their blinds; writers who have found inspiration in the U.P.’s splendor; a widow making a living at the Gossard lingerie factory; 19th century soldiers stationed at isolated Fort Wilkins; “shackers” who remained long after the loggers left the upper Great Lakes; Canadian immigrants; dedicated worshippers who have kept alive Ste. Anne’s Parish on Mackinac Island for three centuries; and WWII-era Detroit factory workers who lobbied for the right to smoke. It also explores Ely Township during the Great Depression, socialism on the Iron Range, the impact of alcohol used in trade among Great Lakes Indians and NMU’s role in the Upper Peninsula.
One of Magnaghi’s first students at NMU was Ishpeming native Robert Archibald, editor of the book. In his introduction, Archibald describes how his mentor went from transplanted Californian with expertise in Latin American history and the Spanish Borderlands to a “devout Yooper” who fully embraced local and regional history by offering related courses.
“No one before Russ Magnaghi has studied, researched and written about the Upper Peninsula in such a comprehensive fashion,” he writes. “He has shown all of us that the Upper Peninsula really is someplace special. He has demonstrated that this place has a rich and varied history, in which people have interacted with each other and the amazing geography to produce a distinct culture that imparts a rich quality of life and deep appreciation for our surroundings. Russ Magnaghi has demonstrated for all of us that history is a powerful tool for connecting people to each other and to their place.”
NMU President David Haynes, also a former student, wrote in the book’s preface that Magnaghi has capably filled a valued role at Northern beyond professor and scholar.
“His service as university historian is appreciated by the Board of Trustees and me and has resulted in an enhanced awareness of our proud university traditions and the connections between those of us who are here now and those who have studied and taught here over the past 115 years.”
Northern Border is available for purchase at the event and afterward at the NMU Bookstore, along with other book stores and gift shops.