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History at the University of North Dakota (1885-1970)

History at the University of North Dakota (1885-1970)

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Published by billcaraher
This is the official departmental history of the Department of History at the University of North Dakota.
This is the official departmental history of the Department of History at the University of North Dakota.

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Published by: billcaraher on Feb 25, 2010
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 Historyat theUniversity of North Dakota1885-1970William R. Caraher © 2009
 
1
History at the University of North DakotaAn IntroductionThe plan for each department to write a departmental history first emerged in conjunctionwith the Centennial Celebration at the University of North Dakota. The result was a series of departmental histories which ranged widely in quality and length. The Department of History,however, did not produce a formal history at that time. It may have been that the production of avolume celebrating the 100
th
Anniversary of the University occupied their collective efforts.
1
 While work began on such a publication, it never advanced beyond a rather ramshackledocument without any author listed and entitled:
 A Centennial Newsletter 
.
2
When PresidentCharles Kupchella requested that departments and divisions bring their histories up to date in therun-up to the 125
th
Anniversary of the founding of the University, I undertook to write a basichistory of the department from the first historian on campus until today. I quickly decided,however, that the task of writing the entire history of the department in a way that would do justice to the methods of our discipline was simply not possible in the time allowed. Moreover,the material for the most recent history continues in regular use by the department’s officers and,consequently, has not been committed to the University Archives. In other cases, the faculty didnot preserve documents, which at the time appeared to be inconsequently. Finally, delving intothe recent past always runs to risk of re-awakening tensions between members of the department,and it seemed an unwise course for a junior, untenured faculty member. Consequently, I choseto end my history around 1970. The significant changes that took place in the department duringthe 1960s carried the department through the following decade.This document follows in the tradition of institutional history. This largely derives fromthe reality that I am not an expert on history of the University, the state, or the developmentswithin academia or the discipline over the course of the 20
th
century. Numerous names, events,and historical developments sent me scrambling for my copy of Robinson’s,
 History of North Dakota
,
3
L. Veysey’s,
The Emergence of the American University
,
4
P. Novick’s,
That Noble
1
R. Wilkins ed.,
 A Century on the Northern Plains: The University of North Dakota at 100
. (Grand Forks, ND1983).
2
 
The University of North Dakota Department of History: A Centennial Newsletter 
. Departmental Histories. ElwynB. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.
3
E. B. Robinson,
 History of North Dakota
. (Lincoln 1966
4
L. R. Veysey,
The Emergence of the American University
. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1965).
 
2
 Dream: The "objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession
,
5
and above all, L.Geiger’s
 History of the University of the Northern Plains
.
6
The shadow of this last work, a fineexample of institutional history, looms large behind these three chapters.All things being equal, I would have liked to capture more of the experience of studyingat the University during the first half of the 20
th
century. At the same time, I have also neglectedto follow the example of the best kind of modern history which captures the personalities of themain characters in the narrative; for long stretches this history reads like the worst kind of  prosopography, where individuals fade away behind an endless litany of credentials,accomplishments, and dissertation advisors.
Themes in the History of the Department of History
Whatever the faults in my research and analysis (and with apologies to Elwyn Robinson)there do appear, quite distinctly several “Themes in the History of the Department of History”.Most of these themes have come to light only with the benefit of hindsight and, consequently, arenot as prominent in my chapters as they perhaps could have been. In the interest of transparency,it must also be said that these themes may have resonated in my sources largely on account of their presence in the contemporary departmental discourse.1.
 
Lack of Resources. Hardily a report of the department lacked a cry for more resources.The requested resources might be earmarked for the library, for the seminar room, facultysalaries, office space, or even equipment. With the understanding that no department islikely to claim itself well-funded and that administrators are more likely to provide greasefor a squeaky wheel, the is almost no question that the study of history ranked low on theUniversity’s list of priority even from its earliest days.2.
 
High Turn Over of Faculty. Closely related to the first theme, the turn over of faculty both junior in rank and occasionally senior in rank is a constant factor in the departmentaldiscourse. It is clear that the typically high quality of junior faculty made it possible for them to move on to better positions at typically more research oriented universities (oftenin warmer climes). It is also clear that the departmental culture has not always been a
5
P. Novick,
That Noble Dream: The "objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession
. (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press 1988).
6
L. Geiger,
University of the Northern Plains
. (Grand Forks, ND: University of North Dakota Press, 1958)

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