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Runestone research from a different perspective

Adam Hjorthen of Sweden recently visited the Runestone Museum in Alexandria. The runestone is the topic of his master's thesis.

Adam Hjorthen recently visited the Runestone Museum and Douglas County Historical Society in Alexandria to learn more about the famous Kensington Runestone.

From here, he traveled to the Twin Cities to continue his research at the Swedish-American Institute and at the Minnesota Historical Society.

Hjorten is a master's degree student from Uppsala University in Sweden who has chosen the controversial stone as the topic of his master's thesis.

The stone's authenticity, pro and con, has been studied for more than a century, but Hjorten's research is unique in that it deals with how different museums throughout its history have displayed and interpreted its significance and why.

Hjorthen said that it was a "coincidence" that led to his research.

In 2008, while searching for a topic for his master's thesis in Swedish-American history, his advisor, Dr. Dag Blanck, senior lecturer at the Uppsala University and Swedish Center, mentioned the Kensington Runestone and the controversy surrounding it.

The Kensington Runestone had been displayed in Stockholm from October 2003 to March 2004 and also at the Halsinglands Museum in Hudiksvall, Sweden in 2004.

He noted that it had "created quite a fuss" when articles related to the stone were published in Swedish newspapers. But since Hjorthen had just begun his history studies at that time, he was totally unaware of it.

Once he did learn of it, he was quite interested in the topic of the runestone.

"I felt that ongoing research related to the runestone was important for the image of Swedish Americans and also for Swedish-American history," he explained.

The topic for his master's thesis was born.

The runestone was first displayed in a Kensington bank building in 1899. After being dismissed as a fake and nearly forgotten, Hjalmar Holand obtained it in 1907 and, after some study, promoted it by taking it to Europe in 1911.

There it was mostly dismissed as a hoax, even though the Minnesota Historical Society had studied it and given it a favorable report the previous year.

Although not the focus of Hjorthen's research, the growing controversy surrounding the runestone has led to further research and has also served to promote the interest of museums in displaying and interpreting its significance as an historic artifact.

It was displayed at the Swedish-American Institute in Minneapolis in 1935, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. 1948-1949, at the Centennial of the Territory of Minnesota Exhibit in 1949 and at the New York World's Fair in 1965 before being sent to Stockholm and Hudiksvall in 2003-2004.

The Runestone Museum in Alexandria has been home to the famous stone since 1958, but a replica has filled in during the runestone's travels.

Adam made the following observation:

"The stone itself is interesting because of the story it tells; however, I think people get involved with the history of the stone much because of the controversy surrounding it. It is an exciting controversy and also the reason for the 'big fuss' surrounding it.

"What I am looking for in my research of the museums that have displayed the runestone is the use of that history, because that is what museums are about. Every museum has to choose what history to tell...and that is what I think is so fascinating."