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Culminating Project Title

Cokato Through August Akerlund's Lens

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

History: Public History: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Robert Galler

Second Advisor

Mary Wingerd

Third Advisor

Peter Happel Christian

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

Akerlund, Photography, Cokato, Gust, August, Photograph


Swedish immigrant turned United States citizen August (Gust) Akerlund captured Cokato’s history through his photography from 1902-1950. Today, Akerlund’s photography studio and 14,019 negative collection are preserved due to the care of Akerlund’s family, the staff of the Cokato Museum, and the community of Cokato. Although Akerlund’s collection and studio provides a window into Cokato’s past, the few published works that mention Cokato do not utilize both Akerlund’s life and his photographs as complementary sources. This thesis is an attempt to rectify this neglect by using Akerlund’s resources (including his photographs, life story, and studio) to question the popular perception of small rural American communities like Cokato as secluded, unified, and homogeneous. In the process, this work will highlight Akerlund’s contributions to the region and enrich in our understanding of Cokato’s dynamic. In doing so, Akerlund shows how individuals, like himself, advanced urban influence on rural Cokato through their early fascination with photography, radios, automobiles, agricultural developments and industrial technology. In addition, Akerlund’s perspective and photographs both reinforce and complicate Cokato’s general identity as a primarily Northern European Protestant, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Old-Stock American ethnic and religious background. Finally, he reveals how the ideologies of Cokato’s most dominant ethnicities, classes, and religions were contested, even in victory, over the alcohol controversy.


Completing this thesis would not be possible without the support and assistance of a number of individuals. First, thank you to my thesis committee, Dr. Robert Galler, Dr. Mary Wingerd, and Professor Peter Happel Christian for their time and effort; to my professors Dr. Mary Wingerd, Dr. Robert Galler, and my other professors for guiding and inspiring me throughout the Public History program; to my colleague and mentor Mike Worcester for helping me with my research and questions; to my mom for editing and reading all of those drafts; to the Goodhue County, Clay County, and Dassel Area Historical Societies for providing me sources and research material; to Ann Anderson for patiently answering all of my questions on the thesis process; and to my friends and family who encouraged me throughout this whole endeavor.

Finally, I would like to thank the family of August (Gust), Esther, and Edward (Ted) Akerlund, the City of Cokato, the Cokato Historical Society and Museum, and all those who aided in the preservation of Gust Akerlund’s family history and studio. Without their hard work and dedication, a priceless bit of history would be lost and this thesis would not be possible.

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