Local History and The Food Explorer

by Alyssa Yenzer

Local History and The Food Explorer

By Mary Swabb, Adult & Teen Services Librarian

Humans are naturally inquisitive creatures. At some point in life, many people become fascinated with their family history or the local history of where they live. Detecting one’s family history can be thrilling; however, it can also be a daunting task to begin or continue if information is sparse. Manhattan Public Library (MPL) has numerous resources to help patrons address these curiosities. Not only can Ancestry.com be accessed on library computers for free, but there are numerous books within MPL’s collection that residents might find helpful.

If you’re interested in exploring your family’s history in Manhattan, Kansas, MPL has a non-circulating Kansas History Reference book collection where volumes of local historical significance are kept. The Official State Atlas of Kansas: Compiled from Government Surveys, County Records, and Personal Investigations by L.H. Everts & Co. is part of this collection and contains a variety of maps, including historical county maps. These maps allow library patrons to see where family members lived, and how local landscapes have changed overtime.

In addition to the Kansas History Reference book collection, MPL also archives local papers such as the Manhattan Mercury, which can be utilized to find birth announcements, obituaries, marriage announcements, and other articles about family members. Historical back issues of local papers can be accessed via microfilm. The library also has microfilm indices where names or dates can be looked up to help narrow down which microfilm reel needs to be utilized. The newspaper indices are one of the best ways patrons can learn about their relatives’ lives.

If you’re interested in more generally exploring local history, you might check out Frontier Manhattan: Yankee Settlement to Kansas Town, 1854-1894 by Kevin G.W. Olson, Manhattan by James Earl Sherow, or The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats by Daniel Stone.

Frontier Manhattan: Yankee Settlement to Kansas Town, 1854-1894 follows the adventures of Isaac Goodnow and five other New Englanders as they settle between the Kansas and Big Blue rivers on the Great Plains frontier. The book chronicles the first forty years of Manhattan, elucidating the various forces that settlers had to overcome in founding the town amidst the backdrop of the Civil War era. Frontier Manhattan is packed with rich historical details and written in a very amusing and accessible way that will hold readers’ interests.

In Manhattan, Sherow features prominent local events from 1854 to 2013. He provides an overview of Manhattan’s founding and explains how early social reformers established a land grant university that would become Kansas State University, formed a mutually beneficial alliance with Fort Riley, and navigated the ecological forces of the Flint Hills. This book provides valuable details in a concise way, and it’s a great introduction to the history of Manhattan.

The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats follows voyaging botanist and agricultural explorer, David Fairchild as he searches for “food that would enrich the American farmer and enchant the American eater.” Ultimately, Fairchild’s journey transforms America into a more diverse food system. Fairchild is credited with bringing kale, mangoes, avocados, dates, nectarines, soybeans, and pistachios to American farmers. The book also touches on other native sons of Manhattan, Charles Marlatt and Walter Swingle. Stone’s biography vividly narrates Fairchild’s adventures over five continents and his insatiable desire to discover new produce varieties and promote agricultural development.

If you’re interested in local history, especially, as it revolves around agriculture and food, MPL will be hosting a book discussion of The Food Explorer at 7 p.m. Monday, November 5, 2018. The discussion will be led by William Richter, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and former K-State first Associate Provost for International Programs. This discussion kicks off a series of events taking place during K-State’s Science and Communication Week, many of which revolve around The Food Explorer. Daniel Stone will visit K-State on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 and the Riley County Historical Society and Museum will be offering a driving tour, Where the Adventure Began: Touring the Home Town of the Food Explorers beginning November 7, 2019. More information about Science and Communication week events can be found at http://www.k-state.edu/scicomm/.