Commemorating New Sweden…again

Despite its status as the first permanent European settlement in the Delaware Valley, the New Sweden colony does not hold the same place in American mythology as Jamestown or Plymouth—even for people who live quite close to “The Rocks,” the site of the 1638 Swedish landing in what is now Wilmington, Delaware. This is not terribly surprising when you consider the traditional emphasis placed on the English origins of the United States. Moreover, Swedish control of the region was brief; the Dutch conquered the colony in 1655, only seventeen years after the landing.

The recreated Kalmar Nyckel docked at Fort Christina.

The recreated Kalmar Nyckel docked at Fort Christina State Park in Wilmington, Delaware.

Yet there are many reminders of the colonial Swedish presence on Delaware’s landscape today. The river on which the Swedes sailed is still called the Christina, after their young queen. The colors of the Swedish flag can be seen throughout the state. A portion of Route 13 in northern Delaware is named Governor Printz Boulevard, after the man who led the colony between 1643 and 1653. In Wilmington you can visit Old Swedes Church, built in 1699, and Fort Christina State Park. A national historic landmark, the park occupies the site of the first fort built by the Swedish colonists and encompasses “The Rocks”. In my dissertation I explore the creation of this memorial landscape for the New Sweden tercentenary in 1938. It was with a sense of déjà vu that I attended the New Sweden Jubilee, the commemoration of the 375th anniversary of the landing of the Swedes, on May 11. Commemorations are somehow both ephemeral and eternal. Although the pageantry is short lived, they follow the same patterns and take place on the same “sacred” ground.

Since parking is a problem in the neighborhood around Fort Christina, I left my car in a lot on Wilmington’s Riverfront and then jumped on a school bus that took us to the park. I ended up waiting for quite a while for the ceremony to begin, and I was thankful that I could sit in the shade while listening to the First State Symphonic Band. Around 3pm the visiting dignitaries, including King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden and Finland’s Speaker of Parliament Eero Heinaluoma, arrived on the Kalmar Nyckel, the replica of the ship that brought the Swedish and Finnish colonists to the Delaware Valley in 1638. (Finland was under Swedish control at the time of the settlement.)

Each attendee received two flags. Although the commemorators wanted to celebrate the Swedish and the Finnish colonists equally, Sweden's flag was larger. Some of the commemorators of the 300th anniversary in 1938 did not want the Finns involved at all.

Each attendee received two flags. Although the commemorators sought to celebrate the Swedish and the Finnish colonists equally, Sweden’s flag was larger. Some of the commemorators of the 300th anniversary in 1938 did not want the Finns involved at all.

The delegation had boarded the ship at the Riverfront after being welcomed by Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams and Mayor Johan Persson of Wilmington’s Sister City Kalmar, Sweden. The ship docked at Fort Christina State Park, where it was met by representatives of several American Indian groups and Swedish-American heritage organizations, some of whom were in costume. After the official addresses, the Swedish royals placed a wreath to honor the settlers in front of the monument that had been presented to the United States by the people of Sweden for the tercentenary. Attendees lined the walkway to cheer the dignitaries as they exited the park and carried on to Old Swedes Church for a special service. The day concluded with a formal Jubilee Gala on the Riverfront, attended by Vice President Joe Biden and other leading Delawareans. It must have been a long day for the members of the official delegation, who also attended a symposium entitled “Making it in America” at Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum in the morning, followed by a trip to Chester, PA to lay a wreath at the Finnish Monument, a gift of the people of Finland to the United States for the 1938 commemoration, and a luncheon with Delaware Governor Jack Markell.

Sweden's Queen Silvia (with flowers) and King Carl XVI Gustaf (in sunglasses) exit the park.

Sweden’s Queen Silvia and King Carl XVI Gustaf exit the park.

The participants in this Jubilee Landing in many ways retraced the steps of the commemorators of the 300th anniversary of the Swedish landing in 1938. The tercentenary celebration took place on June 27, 1938, a day of steady rainfall. The royal liner Kungsholm docked on the Christina River near the new park. The guest of honor, the Crown Prince of Sweden, remained on the ship because of a kidney attack; his son, Prince Bertil, took his place on the platform with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Richard C. McMullen, the governor of Delaware. After a delay of an hour and a half, the dedication of the park and the monument commenced.  Military bands played the American and Swedish national anthems and the speakers enthusiastically gave thanks for the heritage of the early settlers. Following the dedication the official delegations from Sweden and Finland gathered for a service in Old Swedes Church. Then there were luncheons at the Delaware State Armory for Swedish tourists and at Hotel Du Pont for official delegates. The afternoon events included an address in Rodney Square by Cordell Hull, U. S. Secretary of State, and a parade of floats depicting the history of Delaware and representing the DuPont Company and other important industrial organizations. Although some highways were flooded, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people entered the city by automobile, 5,000 by rail, and 1,500 by bus to attend the festivities. The celebration concluded with a party for the official delegates and invited guests at Longwood, the estate of philanthropist and businessman Pierre S. du Pont. Following the Wilmington celebration, the Royal Swedish party traveled to Philadelphia and Chester, Pennsylvania, and to Swedesboro and Salem, New Jersey, to attend ceremonies commemorating settlements in those areas of the Delaware Valley.

The similarities between 1938 and 2013 did not end with the location and program of the commemoration. Speakers on both occasions emphasized the introduction of the log cabin and peaceful relations with the Lenni Lenape as part of the Swedish legacy. There was even the same trace of defensiveness when it came to New Sweden’s importance in relation to the more celebrated English colonies. (One speaker declared that “The Rocks,” which formed a natural rock wharf for the colonists, “are much more important than Plymouth Rock, which was just a boulder that a few people stepped on.”)

Despite the beautiful weather and the opportunity to see royalty, Fort Christina State Park remained largely empty.

Despite the beautiful weather and the opportunity to see royalty, Fort Christina State Park was largely empty.

Unlike the tercentenary, however, the New Sweden Jubilee did not seem to involve as many Delawareans. The New Sweden Alliance, the nonprofit organization that orchestrated the commemoration, is an umbrella organization of Swedish- and Finnish-American heritage groups in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Although such groups participated in the tercentenary, the main celebration in 1938 fell under the control of a state commission, sponsored by state and federal funding. Perhaps this accounts for the general lack of awareness about the event among Delawareans and the low attendance at the ceremony. According to the Wilmington News Journal, 1,000 people attended the ceremony, which is only about a quarter of the park’s capacity.

If you are interested in learning more about New Sweden, visit the Delaware Historical Society’s exhibit at the Willingtown Square Gallery in Wilmington. Or come to the University of Delaware in November for the 375th Anniversary New Sweden Conference, entitled “Encountering ‘Others’ in the Atlantic World: Perspectives from the Material World.”

Anne Reilly is interested in the material culture of memory and the relationship between public commemorations and national identity. Her dissertation explores the creation of memorial landscapes at the sites of the Jamestown, Plymouth, and New Sweden colonies at the time of their tercentenaries in 1907, 1920, and 1938, respectively.

Summer Projects in Material Culture

From sewing tents to digging up sherds, Ph.D. students in the History of American Civilization program at the University of Delaware’s Department of History know how to keep themselves busy during the summer. Here is a sampling of what we’ll be doing over the next few months:

Nicole Belolan, Elizabeth Jones, and Anne Reilly will all participate as fellows in the University of Delaware’s Public Humanities Institute (DELPHI). DELPHI exposes graduate students studying material culture to a variety of tools for communicating their research to a broad audience. After two weeks of workshops in June, participants purse their research and work on public outreach projects. Nicole, Anne and Liz will all continue to pursue research they are conducting for their dissertations. You can read short descriptions of their research below. You can also learn more at the DELPHI web site.

  • Nicole is working on the material culture of physical mobility impairment in early America. She is investigating how early Americans used objects to manage their bodies and how those experiences shaped ideas and practices related to gender roles, citizenship, and identity.
  •  Liz’s research examines the role of women’s consumption in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century mid Atlantic, utilizing methodologies from both economic history and material culture studies.
  • Anne is working on twentieth-century public commemorations. This summer, Anne will continue her research on the 1907 Jamestown Tercentenary. She will begin in Richmond, supported by a research fellowship from the Virginia Historical Society.

Alison Kreitzer will be interning at the Hagley Museum and Library this summer. She is part of a team working to finish processing the Z. Taylor Vinson Transportation Collection. Researchers will gain access to the 700 cubic feet of transportation (mainly automobile) memorabilia in 2014. In the meantime, learn more about the Z. Taylor Vinson Transportation Collection by visiting Hagley’s blog.

Lisa Minardi is organizing the fifth annual archaeology field school at The Speaker’s House. The house was the home of Frederick Muhlenberg (1750-1801), the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Muhlenberg’s house is located in Montgomery County, PA. The dig runs June 4th through 22th. Visit to learn more.

Tyler Putman sewing. His tailoring skills will come in handy this summer while working at Colonial Williamsburg.

Tyler Putman sewing. His tailoring skills will come in handy this summer while working at Colonial Williamsburg.

Tyler Putman will be dusting off his needles to help reproduce the field tent or marquee George Washington used during the American Revolution. The Museum of the American Revolution owns the original “First Oval Office,” which will serve as the project’s model. Several expert “tailor-historians” will sew the reproduction while interpreting the process at Colonial Williamsburg this summer. You can read more about the project here, and  you can “follow” the tent on its Facebook page here. In addition,check out the project’s progress throughout the summer via the web cam.

Be sure to check back during the summer to read some reports from the field!

Reflections on Presenting Material Culture Research to Public Audiences

Over the past few years, History of American Civilization students have presented their research to the University of Delaware’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Take a moment to read Nicole Belolan’s recent exchange with her colleague Alison Kreitzer below. Here, Alison, a fourth year Am Civ candidate, reflects on how sharing her research on African American men and automobile racing in the early twentieth century with the non-specialist Osher audience has enriched her academic work.

What was the nature of the research you presented to your Osher audience?

Alison: My Osher talk focused on the participation of African American men in automobile racing during the 1920s and early 1930s. African American men interested in automobiles and automotive technology began to compete in automobile races during this period to combat the social and spatial limitations that black Americans faced under Jim Crow. African Americans recognized that the automobile had specific cultural capital within American society as a symbol of white, middle class status. By showing that they could own, drive, and repair automobiles through organized speed contests, African Americans used this leisure activity as a platform to push for greater racial equality within the United States.

My research for this talk is primarily based on documentary evidence collected from African American newspapers. I am particularly interested in gaining a greater understanding of the types of automobiles that black racers competed in during this period. By comparing the driver and car information provided in contemporary newspapers with surviving racecars from this period located in automobile racing museums, I have significantly expanded my understanding of the types of racecars, financial costs, and the consumer networks black racecar drivers used to piece together their racing machines.

You participated in the University of Delaware’s Delaware Public Humanities Institute (DELPHI) during the summer of 2012. DELPHI is designed develop graduate students’ public humanities “toolkits” through a series of workshops. How did your participation in DELPHI help prepare you for the Osher audience?

Alison: My participation in DELPHI taught me important strategies to “package” my dissertation research in ways that are exciting and meaningful to a more general audience of history enthusiasts. Several members of the Osher audience had experience with racing or tinkering with automobiles, so they automatically connected to the more technical side of my talk, which discussed the types of racecars that participants competed in during the 1920s and 1930s. However, my talk also focused on larger historical issues and themes like segregated transportation and race relations. Audience members who did not have firsthand experience with automobile racing connected to personal experiences where they had witnessed cases of discrimination similar to those experienced by the black automobile racers that I described in my talk. The series of DELPHI workshops also helped me hone my public speaking and presentation skills, which allowed me to feel comfortable addressing the Osher audience.

How did your presentation preparation and style differ from how you might have prepared for a more “academic” venue such as a scholarly conference?

Alison: Unlike a scripted academic talk, the more informal nature of the Osher talk allowed me to discuss my research without reading my presentation to the audience. I used my power point slides which featured images of African American automobilists, racecar drivers, primary source documents, and surviving racecars to lead my discussion. Osher audience members felt comfortable with the informal nature of my presentation and asked questions throughout my talk, which allowed me to provide additional information about my research findings that targeted the specific interests of particular members of the audience.

The presentation technology has changed, but Alison's audience was likely as engaged as was the audience pictured here in 1944 at the United Nations Club in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

The presentation technology has changed, but we can be sure that Alison’s audience was as engaged with her talk on African American men and automobile racing  as was the audience pictured here in a 1944 photograph taken by J. Sherrel Lakey at the United Nations Club in Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress)

How did you get your listeners to relate to your work? What about material culture or your research in particular strikes a chord with the public?

Alison: The majority of the Osher audience members had no direct experience with automobile racing; however, all listeners had driven automobiles throughout their lifetimes. An important way to connect listeners to my topic is to directly compare the experience of driving a passenger automobile to the experience of driving a racecar. Discussing the limited safety equipment like helmets and goggles available to interwar racers also helps audience members to create a mental image of what automobile racing was like during this period. After introducing objects that help to contextualize the sport for listeners, I can discuss how larger historical themes like masculinity, American leisure, consumption, and race relations are important aspects of my work. Even if the audience is not particularly interested or knowledgeable about automobile racing, my discussion of the material culture and major themes pertinent to the history of dirt track racing strikes a chord with members of the public who have participated in America’s car culture and are interested in hobbies or sports.

How did presenting your work to this group change the way you think about your research?

Alison: The Osher participants provided several stories of their own personal experiences with automobile traveling and competitive racing that worked to verify the historical experiences and narrative that forms the heart of my research. Their questions encouraged me to dig deeper into the personal histories of individual drivers to develop a greater understanding of their educational and family backgrounds as well as the reasons that prevented them from continuing to participate in automobile races by the early 1940s.

In what ways do you think material culture scholars are particularly well situated to bridge what is sometimes perceived as a “gap” between the public and academia?

Alison: Material culture scholars are particularly well suited to bridge the gap between academic research and public humanities because people from all different personal and educational backgrounds interact with objects like passenger automobiles on a daily basis. By studying objects, material culture scholars develop additional questions to pursue throughout their research projects that they may have missed by only studying document records. Since automobile racing history is not a widely studied topic highlighted in museum collections or academia, my research goals include developing public humanities outreach programs like this talk for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to educate people about dirt track automobile racing history.

On behalf of the Am Civ Blog, I extend special thanks to Alison for sharing her experiences with us today! We look forward to seeing her research progress. In the mean time, stay tuned this summer for more reflections on what Am Civvies are getting out of the Delaware Public Humanities Institute (DELPHI) fellowship training.