STARKVILLE, Miss.--Mississippi State's Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library is a stop on Icelandic writer and publisher Karl Birgisson's current visit in search of materials to help him finish a forthcoming book.
Birgisson arrived in the United States last week from Reykjavik and drove to Starkville from Orlando, Fla. After spending several days at the university, he is headed to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., before returning home.
Titled "First, We Take Alaska," his book explores how Alaska almost became an "Icelandic state" within the U.S. in the late 19th century. The attempt was due to efforts of self-exiled Icelandic newspaper editor and poet Jon Olafsson, President Grant and Wall Street lawyer Marston Niles.
According to the story, Olafsson was seeking land he and other Icelandic immigrants in America could settle permanently.
According to Birgisson, the story only has been told in parts in Iceland and is based solely on Icelandic sources. He now is working to fill in the gaps with American sources.
At MSU, Birgisson told Grant Library officials he had discovered documents that could not be found at any other public institution--materials that would help clarify President Grant's role in the plan to colonize Alaska. He related how the content and tone of private letters in the Grant Collection were particularly helpful.
"They're more interesting than official announcements," Birgisson said.
While Olafsson had offered President Grant a gleaming report of Alaska as an ideal Icelandic colony, Grant apparently had his own reasons for desiring to forfeit the territory acquired during President Abraham Lincoln's administration. Obviously, the plans never materialized.
Birgisson said he is hopeful his research in the U.S. will lead to a full explanation of the story.
"Mr. Birgisson's work is another example of the many research possibilities available at the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library," said assistant MSU archivist Ryan Semmes.
"The Grant Collection contains numerous stories just waiting to be told," Semmes added.
Birgisson is a media veteran of more than 20 years, mostly working as an editor and radio producer. Most recently, he has been an independent writer and publisher, including editing and publishing Herdubreid, a quarterly magazine on Icelandic politics and society.
He also is the author of two books on politics in his island nation, as well as a children's book.
For additional information on the Grant Presidential Library, visit http://digital.library.msstate.edu/cdm/usgrantcollection or contact John Marszalek at 662-325-4552.