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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Ann Crews Melton's blog

From First Draft to Polished Publication: The Life Cycle of "North Dakota History" Articles

Government-funded marionette theater. An iconic photograph of Sitting Bull. Fargo’s bootlegging underworld. The first World War I monument in the nation.

What do these have in common? They are all are captured in riveting detail in North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, published for more than a century by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. “What?” you think to yourself. “The State Historical Society has a legit academic journal?” Yes indeed, covering a wealth of northern plains history since 1906. I wrote about surveying our journal audience last year, but to better explain what distinguishes the journal from a general interest magazine, I want to walk you through the publication process — from selecting manuscripts and photos to the polished, printed glossy that arrives in your mailbox (or can, if you sign up!).

three differend North Dakota History journal covers

1. Manuscript selection
As an academic journal, we have an open call for manuscript submissions, and our staff selects promising ones for anonymous peer review. This means the journal editor, Pam Berreth Smokey, finds subject-area experts to review the text and offer feedback on whether the article meets our guidelines — including source citations — and on potential improvements. The reviewers don’t know the author’s name, and the author never learns the reviewers’ names. Reviewers could be from North Dakota or any state (it’s a secret!). We look at their areas of expertise to select the best match for the topic.

2. Revision process
If the article is accepted by reviewers, the author revises according to reviewer feedback, as well as feedback from Pam, me (the associate editor), and other knowledgeable staff. We edit all manuscripts using the Chicago Manual of Style (including source citations) and maintain a style guide for local North Dakota terms as well.

Men standing outside building. Two men hold a sign together that says To Hell With The Kaiser

Burleigh County men prior to entrainment during World War I, March 29, 1918. Look at their faces, their style, their ages. Do you think the Kaiser got the message? SHSND SA E0071-00001

3. Photo selection
We ask the author for image suggestions to accompany the article, since photos, illustrations, and newspaper scans add visual interest and can tell a story all their own. Our photo archivist, Sharon Silengo, also digs through the State Archives to find related images in our collection. When we need to look further afield, I request photo files and reprint permission from other archives and libraries across the country. We ask authors to draft image captions, often supplemented by the stellar research Sharon unearths.

Page from journal with many edits written on it in pen and marker

4. Layout and proofing
The journal’s text and images are sent to a design contractor, who uses a template created by our internal new media specialists. In addition to the main feature articles, we compile book reviews (also written by academics) and short features written by State Historical Society staff that highlight objects from our collections. The design and proofing phase often goes through many (many, many) rounds, including author review and input from our division director and State Historical Society director.

5. Printing, reading, and acclaim
When the proof receives unanimous approval, Pam sends it to the printer! She and I check press proofs one more time before nervously signing off and collapsing into our piles of revisions and notes. We try our best to eliminate any errors to maintain a standard as close to perfect as humanly possible. Not to mention being attractive and highly readable — as testified to by winning the Mountain Plains Museums Association design award two years in a row.

Three women standing in front of copper wall. The middle woman is holding an award.

Photo archivist Sharon Silengo, North Dakota History editor Pam Berreth Smokey, and Ann with the 2017 MPMA Publication Design Award.

Luckily for you, the most recent issue of the journal is available now, and you can read featured articles online. If you are a researcher and writer of North Dakota history, consider submitting your original work. And for everyone who loves to learn about this region and its complex history — peruse our archives! We are looking forward to the next 100+ years.

A People’s History of the Plains: Rad Women and Girls

When I discovered Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States two decades ago, it rocked my world. The stories of Indigenous peoples, women, slaves, and the working class were a revelation beyond the whitewashed textbook history taught in my public high school.

Today’s historians have gotten better about telling stories of the marginalized, though we still have a long way to go to disrupt the dominant narrative written by “the winners.” This is why I’m excited to direct you toward our North Dakota Studies curriculum, specifically to People Living on the Land, which contains primary sources and commentary on the lives of the everyday North Dakotans who shaped our history.

In honor of Women’s History Month — and March Madness, which we’ll get to in a bit — check out five links on North Dakota’s remarkable, but too often overlooked, women and girls.

Women sitting in a field braiding cork

Women braid corn for drying. SHSND 0086-0277

1. Corn farmers
Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara women traditionally handled agricultural production for their tribes. Women grew sunflowers, beans, and squash, in addition to multiple varieties of corn, providing a reliable source of nutrition and wealth.

Two women draw water from a well

Drawing water from a well, used for washing, cooking, cleaning, and bathing, was one of the heaviest chores a woman had to complete. SHSND 2009-P-012-006

2. Hired girls
Among settler families, teenage girls and young women often found work as “hired girls,” helping farm families with the demanding domestic tasks of childrearing and farmhouse life.

A group of women stand in front of a tent that reads FOVES FOR WOMEN LEAGUE (NOVEMBER 3RD 1914)

While campaigning for the woman suffrage law, the Votes for Women League hosted a tent at the 1914 Bottineau County Fair. SHSND 10204

3. Suffragists
As we prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of U.S. woman suffrage in 2020, it’s enlightening to look back on the women dressed in white a century ago. Even before passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, white women in Dakota Territory could vote in local school elections starting in 1883. Native American women fully gained the right to vote, along with U.S. citizenship, in 1924.

A woman stands in front of an old automobile patching the inner tube of a tire

Veronica Brown of Cass County patches the inner tube of a tire circa 1918. SHSND 0032-CS-06-14

4. Mechanics
Women began driving as soon as cars appeared in North Dakota, and even some girls learned to drive, such as 12-year-old Esther Nichol who made deliveries for her father in Souris. During World War I it is likely more women began to work as mechanics since so many men served overseas.

Five women play basketball while a woman stands in the background coaching or reffing

Athletes compete at Bismarck Indian School, an all-girls boarding school. SHSND 11113-73

5. Basketball stars
Enter hoops madness! Girls’ basketball became a competitive sport in the first half of the 20th-century in North Dakota, when girls began playing half-court games in bulky woolen uniforms. Uniforms and skills improved up until girls’ basketball was suspended in 1960. The game was reinstated for North Dakota girls in 1973.