Annette Atkins is a professor emerita at Saint John's University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minneapolis. A scholar, teacher, and public historian, she specializes in transforming serious research into compelling stories. She is the author of Harvest of Grief: Grasshopper Plagues and Public Assistance in Minnesota, 1873–78 (1984), a book about nineteenth-century rural poverty; We Grew Up Together: Brothers and Sisters in Nineteenth-Century America (2001), a Choice outstanding academic publication about adult sibling relationships; Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out (2007), a path-breaking reinvention of state history which won awards from American Association for State and Local History and Western Writers of America; and Challenging Women since 1913 (2013), a history of the College of Saint Benedict and women's higher education. Atkins speaks widely at professional meetings, libraries, and Road Scholar and other senior education programs, and she has run writing workshops for faculty and the staffs of historical societies. Her lectures have been broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio where she was the on-air historian for five years. Currently, she's at work on a book that tells the American story by focusing on shoes—their wearers, styles, manufacture, and materials, as well as industrialization, urbanization, globalization, advertising, and popular culture. This book expands on her essay, "Walk a Century in My Shoes" (Minnesota History, winter 1999–2000), and demonstrates her continuing commitment to inviting readers to see themselves as part of the historical story.
In this lecture/discussion (with large and small audiences), I propose a set of questions to help people begin to see their lives as historically significant and to connect their personal to larger historical forces. We work our way through as many of the questions as time allows (allocating several five minute blocks to actual writing) and participants leave with a better understanding of their historical context even if they don't want actually to write their own life stories.