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NDSU offers field school on historic earth buildings

The fourth annual field school on historic earth buildings, “Prairie Earth, Prairie Homes,” will be offered this summer by NDSU. The course is scheduled at sites across western North Dakota July 8-15. Instructors for the field school are Tom Isern, NDSU University Distinguished Professor of history and Suzzanne Kelley, board member of Preservation North Dakota.

“Building with earth, especially our clay soils in western North Dakota, is a valuable and historic tradition on the Northern Plains,” said Isern. “The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara lived in earth lodges centuries before white settlers arrived. White settlers, too, built with earth – cut sod, earth brick and other methods, according to their own traditions and ideas.

“In the field school we travel together to sites where historic earth buildings still stand in the prairie landscape. We study them to learn about them, and also to learn from them, to learn ways of living on the prairies,” Isern said.

The field school includes three days of hands-on restoration work on the historic Hutmacher Farmstead, northwest of Manning in Dunn County. The historic German-Russian farmstead is being restored by the association that owns it, Preservation North Dakota, the state’s citizen organization for preservation of historic buildings and landscapes. The Hutmacher Farmstead is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an outstanding example of German-Russian folk architecture.

The field school may be taken for undergraduate credit, graduate credit or teacher professional development credit. For full information about the field school, call Isern at 701-799-2942, Kelley at 701-799-3064, or visit


There will be modest costs for lodging and meals during the field school, with some of these costs for students being defrayed by Preservation North Dakota and by the NDSU Center for Heritage Renewal. Information on the costs will be posted on the website.

“We especially encourage North Dakota teachers to take advantage of this opportunity for professional development,” said Kelley, an experienced public school teacher. “This isn’t just for teachers of social studies, either. This is a great experience for teachers of industrial arts, home economics, language arts or really, any subject area.”

“The field school is billed as ‘experiential learning in an unforgettable landscape,’ ” said Isern. “Western North Dakota is truly a fabulous landscape for a summer experience, but the company is great, too. The students travel and learn together and meet the people associated with these historic earth buildings. This is a learning experience you can’t get anywhere else.”

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation's top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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North Dakota State University
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