Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Biography and Memoir


Katherine Culkin

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Nonfiction | Oral History | Women's Studies


whiteness, critical race theory, memoir, social memory, remembering/forgetting, immigration, Scandinavians in Minnesota, religious fundamentalism, Laestadianism


I was born and raised on a small farm in central Minnesota, the youngest of nine. Our lives centered around a dogmatic faith that banned sex education and birth control in any form. The consequences of these teachings put my life on a tragic course, and I paid dearly for my ignorance. With the help of a therapist and a deep commitment to myself, I left the faith. After I earned a college degree in my early 40s, I began to critically examine my upbringing. Through my educational journey in Black studies, I saw deeply troubling ways in which my family and my religion participated in systemic racial injustices. By examining the oppression of one group of people I was able to see similar patterns that held me back along gendered lines. Realizing these insidious forces helped me to form a new and more complex self-narrative. This thesis is a memoir of awakening.

I will root my personal narrative in historical research to reveal the times in which my immigrant grandparents lived. I will follow this history to the present, weaving my own story with the history and dogma of the Laestadian religion to expose complex intersections of gender and racial oppression. I will grapple on the page with my troubling inheritance. In the telling of my story, I hope to contribute to critical race theory and whiteness studies.

The research methods that I draw upon include family photo albums, correspondence and church records. I search newspaper archives at Minnesota’s Historical Society and at the state’s university. Secondary sources include historical narratives that discuss Minnesota’s political and social histories and several dissertations that examine Scandinavian immigrants in Northern Minnesota.