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Historian to give talk at May Fair

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A sense of history will be the leading theme at this year's Afton May Fair.

The event, to be held May 17-18, will celebrate three main ideas -- the Minnesota Sesquicentennial; all things Scandinavian; and all things environmental -- but history is likely to be dominant.

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The May Fair is an official MN150 celebration, and, as such, the organizing committee has invited several guests with historical links to play a part in the event.

One of those guests is historian Kate Roberts, who developed the "MN 150" exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul and wrote the accompanying book "Minnesota 150: The People, Places and Things that Shape Our State."

Here, she answers questions on her subject.

-- Kate Roberts, historian with the Minnesota Historical Society

Q: What will you be talking about at the May Fair? Will it be specific to Afton, or more generally about Minnesota's history?

A: I'll be talking more generally about Minnesota history -- specifically, the topics included in the Minnesota 150 exhibit and book

Q: How did you compile the 150 Years exhibit and book? There must have been so much you couldn't squeeze in.

A: The book and exhibit resulted from a nomination process, in which we asked members of the public to tell us about a person, place, thing, or event originating in Minnesota that sparked profound, meaningful change within or beyond the borders of the state. We received 2,700 nominations! Winnowing them down to 150 was very, very difficult -- we ended up, regrettably, leaving a lot of great topics out.

Q: What was the most interesting story to come out of your research, or the most intriguing part of Minnesota's history that you weren't aware of before starting work on the project?

A: I learned so much about Minnesota that I didn't know before beginning this project -- we are a state rich in history, and we're also very lucky that so many Minnesotans know and appreciate the stories of our state. The most interesting part of the project, for me, was learning about people's personal connections to our history. One person nominated a high-school classmate who went on to be a key player at NASA, for example, and another person nominated her brother, who is credited with developing GPS. I had no idea that such stories were out there, and I'm so grateful that so many people found the time to write us about them.

Q: Afton was founded in 1855 -- does this make it one of Minnesota's oldest cities?

A: Yes, most definitely. It was founded when Minnesota was still a territory -- three years before it became a state.

Q: Did you stumble across any particularly interesting stories about Afton's history during your research?

A: Nothing specific to Afton comes to mind. I checked our wiki website and noted that we had four nominators from Afton (none of which made the final cut, unfortunately, although I remember that we considered a couple of them really carefully before finally letting them go).

Don't miss upcoming features on the Afton May Fair in the Woodbury Bulletin. For more information on the fair and a full schedule of events, log on to www.aftonmnarea.com.

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