The Historyapolis Project

Winner of the 2015 Alice Smith Prize


The Historyapolis Project seeks to illuminate the history of Minneapolis. Inspired by the idea that history is a powerful tool for community-building, we are working to unearth stories that can explain how the city took shape. We hope to entertain and engage the broadest possible audience. But our central mission is to challenge popular assumptions about our city’s bygone days.

Every community deserves a courageous account of its past. Thanks to a grant from the State of Minnesota from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund, our researchers spent 2014 working in archives to identify the material necessary to construct such a narrative. We organized our findings in a new research guide to Minneapolis history sources that we hope will serve as a roadmap to the past. Our goal was to make it easier for researchers to find answers to their questions about the city’s history.

As we unearthed new sources that help us understand the past in Minneapolis, we also experimented with using digital tools to share our findings. In 2013, we started posting historical vignettes on Facebook. Soon after that we developed this website, which features a blog with myriad contributors. We envision this as both a portal to the past and a foundation for new relationships in the present. The Historyapolis Project seeks to connect the curious, bringing together anyone interested in an innovative exploration of the history of Minneapolis and its meaning for our city now.

This project is housed in the History Department at Augsburg College, which overlooks Murphy Square, the oldest park in Minneapolis.


This 1939 postcard shows Memorial Hall at Augsburg College. The building is home to both the history department and the Historyapolis Project. Image credit: Augsburg College archives.

The neighborhood surrounding the college is known as Cedar-Riverside. The traditional gateway for newcomers to the city, it was the commercial heart of the Scandinavian immigrant community at the end of the nineteenth century. Its main thoroughfare was known historically as “Snusgatan,”

The neighborhood was transformed after World War II, when assimilated Scandinavians sought better housing in south Minneapolis. This exodus cleared the way for the neighborhood to become the center of the state’s small counterculture; it also became the epicenter for new battles over urban renewal, as activists resisted the idea that the wholesale demolition of the neighborhood’s nineteenth century streetscape would stem the tide of urban deterioration.

It was in this contentious period that Augsburg College began to see the surrounding neighborhood as an extension of the classroom. Over the last fifty years, the College  has earned national recognition for integrating civic engagement into every aspect of campus life. The neighborhood provides a rich environment for this kind of learning, thanks to a new wave of immigrants that has remade Cedar-Riverside into a center for East African life. Lined with immigrant businesses that provide living reminders of the neighborhood’s history, Cedar Avenue has been transformed from “Snusgatan” into “Little Mogadishu.”

With its strong public mission and clear commitment to its urban setting and diverse student body, Augsburg provides the perfect incubator for this experiment in community-engaged history-making.

This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.


logos, made transparent, from Augsburg