NDSU history students recently completed a successful field experience at the Emmons County Museum to help people in the Linton, North Dakota, area connect with their past.
The three-credit course, History 491/690, ran from May 22-June 10. It was led by Angela Smith, assistant professor of history and NDSU’s public historian.
It was a win-win situation for all involved. NDSU undergraduate and graduate students gained hands-on experience in their field, while the community received more than 1,200 hours of volunteer service from NDSU-educated public historians.
The students focused on best-practices in digitization, museum work and public engagement. They cataloged artifacts, wrote exhibit text, digitized photos and conducted oral histories with residents.
“We also got to know the community by singing with the seniors, working a booth at Dairy Days and attending various town functions,” said Smith, noting the students also took field trips to Whitestone Hill, the Logan County Museum, the Welk Homestead site and St. Mary’s Church in Hague, North Dakota. “The students made a difference and practiced their craft in a museum that needed their help. I am very proud of the students, our work in the museum and thankful to the town of Linton for agreeing to host us.”
History graduate student John Hest, who is from Perley, Minnesota, said he gained a new appreciation for the passionate dedication of the volunteers who are the driving force behind rural museums.
“As historians, our first duty is as storytellers. When we scratch the surface of these small towns, they have fantastic stories to tell and these stories are often not written down,” Hest said. “If we are able to record their stories and interpret their past in the museum, we are able to preserve their history and make sure that those stories persevere beyond the lifespans of the wonderful people who run the museum.”
Alex Lien, a senior majoring in history, said a favorite moment was unveiling the newly updated historical displays to the museum’s board of directors.
“Our work is important because the Emmons County Museum has a lot of amazing items that need to be preserved. But, the money and experience needed to do that is not always available in small museums,” explained Lien, who is from Chatfield, Minnesota. “This class's purpose was to help preserve the items while also teaching the current caretakers proper techniques and tricks to taking care of their museum.”
Graduate student Lauren Wiese, from Grafton, Wisconsin, said, “Not only was this experience beneficial to us and to the museum board, but it benefitted the entire community of Emmons County and all of North Dakota. By preserving the history of Emmons County, we preserved a part of North Dakota's history. We preserved family and individual histories, and in the process, we became part of Emmons County history as well. Seeing the tangible change and knowing that I played a key part in making it happen was an amazing feeling.”
Dean Brooks, a senior English major of West Fargo and originally from the Philadelphia area, added, "It was profoundly satisfying to improve an important historical site in a way that still met approval with the town of Linton."
Other participating NDSU students included:
• Kaci Johnson, history graduate student from Zim, Minnesota
• Kirbie Sondreal, senior public history major from Reynolds, North Dakota
• Emily Kulzer, senior majoring in public history from Mahnomen, Minnesota
• Brett Mills, senior majoring in public history from Buffalo, Minnesota
As a student-focused, land-grant, research university, we serve our citizens.