Germans from Russia Resources in South Dakota

A notable ethnic heritage in north-central and south-central South Dakota is that of the Germans from Russia.  Immigrants from Russia with German heritage had a distinct historical path to the Midwestern prairies that has been of special interest to their descendants as well as historians and architectural historians.  Here are some of the resources about the German from Russia experience in South Dakota and beyond that I’ve come across.  I’ll add to the list as I go, but please feel welcome to comment with your tips and suggestions!

A while back I got to visit the Ludwig Deckert House at the Heritage Hall Museum in Freeman.  The house is pretty awesome, especially because it has a central pyramidal brick chimney that encompassed the kitchen in its base and had smoking racks on the second story portion.  It sometimes takes a detailed eye to distinguish “folk” architecture of different ethnic groups from general vernacular architecture, or between ethnic groups, i.e. between Norwegian and Swedish… but the Deckert House is such a strong example of Germans from Russia folk architecture preserved to museum quality Continue reading


Teaching South Dakota History

I’ve recently come across a few people concerned with the availability of teacher resources and continuing education for South Dakota history.  One was particularly looking for digital and primary digital resources to use with an existing curriculum plan.  I have only moderate experience with planning and hosting youth programs and no professional experience with curriculum development, but I do love research and learning about history.  Their conversations made me think about whether the digital research sources I use on a regular basis, or come across randomly, could help teach significant South Dakota stories.  So this post is thinking out loud about this question…  Let me know if anything here is helpful and please do comment with other ideas or great examples of teaching SD history!

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Digital Research Tools 3

For this West River edition of “Digital Research Tools,” I’ve included collections in Hot Springs, Spearfish, and Deadwood.  Thank you to the librarians, archivists, grant-writers, donors, and supporters who are helping to make these collections available.  Back in the day, I did a couple student gigs as an archive intern, scanning material and entering metadata for each and every record.  It takes an incredible amount of time and organizational energy to turn tactile records into digital ones and put them out there for the public in an accessible way–particularly for a local public library, for which archive digitization would seem to be outside their typical wheelhouse.  Thank you working to bring new life to our past!

Helen Magee Collection, Hot Springs Public Library: The library in Hot Springs is the repository of the exhaustive collection of local historian Helen Magee, who meticulously recorded years and years of obituaries, mortuary records, birth announcements, “on this day…” news articles, event flyers, and more.  The collection is digitized and searchable to an extent–handwritten material doesn’t come up in the searches, some was later typed out but some wasn’t.  Magee’s information was arranged at some point into binders by subject matter, so if you’re curious, go through to the subject of interest and browse to your hearts content.  The library also has the hard-copies in their Heritage Room if you plan a research trip there.


Hot Springs, January 2017, photograph from South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office.

Leland D. Case Library, Black Hills State University, Spearfish:  This link takes you to a list of the collections held at the Case Library at BHSU in Spearfish.  The descriptions of each collection have links then to finding aids or search options if that collection has digitally-viewable material.  It looks like… they have digitized material from the Black Hills National Forest Historical Collection, the Troy L. and Watson Parker Collection (Black Hills ephemera and research notebooks on ghost towns), the Father Szalay collection (heavy on maps), the Wharf Resources, Inc. collection on the Bald Mountain Mining Company, and several collections of research materials from historians and authors.

Deadwood History: This link will take to a page about research options with Deadwood History.  There’s a link to their digital collection, and a link to their finding aids if you want to look deeper into their available collections.  If you go to their digital collections, there’s a Random Images link at the top that’s a fun way to get a glimpse at the wide variety of things they have.

Where do we find Women’s Suffrage in South Dakota history?

From South Dakota State Historical Society on Flickr:

From South Dakota State Historical Society on Flickr: “Alice M. A. Pickler… A state official of the WCTU, she promoted woman’s suffrage in Dakota Territory and served on the executive board of the American Woman Suffrage Association. Her husband, John, was nicknamed “Old Petticoats” for his support of her causes in the Dakota Legislature and in Congress.”

We’re coming up to a centennial anniversary of the passage of equal voting rights for women in South Dakota by the state legislature in 1918.  South Dakota was the 17th state to pass such legislation, just before the U.S. Congress did so in 1919.  The first suffrage bill in Dakota was proposed in 1868, and it took those fifty years of forward movement and setbacks to get the measure passed by male voters [Easton, 226].   For many years supporters and opponents were also tangled up with the temperance movement.

There are many others who have worked hard on histories of this movement for our state, here are a few articles, books, links, and more…  Please share others in the comments!

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New from “South Dakota History”

Just received my issue of South Dakota History from the SD State Historical Society Press.  If you’re not a member and don’t receive this quarterly publication of recent scholarship on the history of South Dakota, BECOME A MEMBER!

South Dakota History, Spring 2015 issue.

South Dakota History, Spring 2015 issue.

Just opening this issue was exciting– The first article is on antiwar protest on colleges in South Dakota in the 60s and 70s.  I did an undergrad paper on the big protest at Columbia University in NYC and a small oral history project in graduate school on experiences of campus antiwar protest in South Carolina, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the stories compare.  I know AIM (American Indian Movement) had a protest at Augustana College in Sioux Falls in that era, but I don’t know much about antiwar activism or reactions to it.  At the end of the article, I hope to be much better informed.  Then, the second article is a women’s history topic.  Awesome.  I’m several issues behind in my reading for this and The Public Historian, but I might skip ahead to this one…

The contents of the new issue:

  • “There is no place in our institutions for radicals”: The Vietnam War on South Dakota Campuses, 1965-1973. by Daryl Webb
  • “All calls promptly attended to, day or night”: Women Doctors in Southern Dakota Territory.  by Lisa R. Lindell
  • Historical Musings – Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Serendipity of Research: Blog Posts from the Pioneer Girl Project.

Plus book reviews, announcements, and a Dakota Images feature on William O. Farber, a long-term professor at USD who also founded their Government Research Bureau in 1938 and served as the first director of the state’s Legislative Research Council from 1951-1955.

For more from South Dakota History, past table of contents and even PDFs of older articles are posted on the Press’ website here.

Why Did They Do That? : The Impetus for Investigation

Working in history, the starting question is often — Why did they do that?  It’s what drives research.  For historic preservation, each aspect of a building is a choice that someone had to make.  It’s fascinating to reflect on why they made the decisions they did.

There are connections that are easy to make.  Banks built temple-front buildings out of stone to communicate authority and permanence to inspire confidence in their customers.  Successful businessmen used imported English tile in fireplace surrounds and obscene amounts of mahogany to communicate financial status.  Gardens can be designed to give visitors certain views, window awnings added for temperature control, stone and logs to make the man-made look natural… More and more has gone into examining ‘ugly’ design like Brutalism and why designing with raw concrete in sharp geometries was ever desirable.  It’s even more elusive to look into the vernacular, the popular, the common, even the cheap.  What factors went into those choices?  Was it money alone?

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Digital Research Tools

There are a lot of institutions doing wonderful work to compile research sources, first person narratives, and photographs.  Thank you to all those who have invested time and resources into scanning, Metadata-ing, logging, organizing, fundraising, and making this history accessible!  Here are some of the websites that anyone can use to browse around or dig deep into South Dakota history.

This is only a sample… Share your favorite sites, and your favorite finds!

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