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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!

Sarah Walker's blog

Behind the Scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Museum Dance Off Video

Dancing in front of the Double Ditch mural

Museum staff Kiri Stone, museum intern Anna Killian, and museum docent Stephen Deutsch dance behind Lindsay and me during our museum dance off.

This is why we (occasionally) dance in museums.

Once upon a time, a blog was formed by a museum professional as an inside joke about things that happen in museums. The blog denoted the humor, joys, and frustrations of museum life, and became well-known to many individuals working and interested in museums. “When you work at a museum” continues to educate people in so many amusing ways that museums and their staff are not stodgy or static, but are vibrant and alive.

Through that blog, the official Museum Dance Off became a thing. It started with just a handful of videos of museum workers dancing. This year, we joined the 4th annual Museum Dance Off, along with 40 other museums from across the world (that’s right—this is an international competition)!

We didn’t make it out of the first round, but we still love our video. If you haven’t viewed it yet, you can take a peek on YouTube here.

We had so much fun making our submission that I thought the readers of our blog might enjoy a taste of the behind-the-scenes action that led to our beloved film.

Filming opening scene

Taken by Geoff Woodcox, this photo shows Jessica Rockeman (on the left) filming me for the opening scenes in about October.

The song chosen for our video was Stereo Hearts by Gym Class Hero and Adam Levine. New Media Specialist Jessica Rockeman, our mastermind behind most of the Dance Off video, felt strongly that we needed a song that we (especially she) wouldn’t get sick of. This one fit the bill.

Many of us who work here have long been hoping that we might take part in it. I love dancing in all of its forms, and combining that passion with the idea of showcasing our awesome museum is just too exciting. Once I heard that we were going to try to submit for this year, I peppered Jess with questions as to where we were in the process. When she told me the song title, I exclaimed, “I love that song! I know it really well!”

“Great. You’re hired,” she proclaimed.

There is a difference between knowing a song and performing it, though. Every clip was filmed multiple times, and sometimes it took a few takes until I had the right words.

“It’s always easy until the camera is on you,” Jess quipped.

We used this video to highlight the galleries and spaces available at our museum. Staff from all of our divisions joined in—in fact, Lindsay and I, the two “lead vocalists,” are both archives staff, and many others who participated or helped were from other divisions. It became a starting point for future endeavors of this type and more, the type of project that both promoted our place of work in many different ways and also showed what fun our jobs are. Claudia Berg, our agency director, even has a cameo in the video. How awesome to see leadership supporting a fun project that showcases our facility!

SHSND Director Claudia Berg pointing at camera

Our agency director, Claudia Berg, takes part.

Jess made sure that we all wore black and white throughout the film. The reason for this, she said, is that the camera loves black and white. Since I was in so many scenes, I picked out one black and white number (a very comfortable dress that was easy to pull on) and changed into it when we were shooting. I was very concerned about maintaining continuity, to the point that I kept worrying about whether my shoes (which sometimes were boots rather than the shoes you see at the opening of the song) would show on camera, or whether people would notice that I wasn’t wearing my Fitbit Alta on my wrist, or that I was wearing an additional ring during the filming. Jess laughed at this.

“No one will notice,” she said.

It’s true. You have to look really closely to notice many of the things I was concerned about—including that my hair grew probably 1-2 inches from the beginning of the filming to the end. After all, we started in about September, grabbing time whenever we could. All of the outdoor scenes were shot in the fall. We ended the filming a week or two before our deadline in March. Thank goodness we started early!

Wendi pushing Sarah on cart

Wendi is pushing me through their collections area.

Oh. There is so much I can say about this video. I literally shed blood and sweat for this project (dancing around in the atrium got pretty warm that afternoon, and I cut my hands up at least once during the filming process). Probably tears, too, from laughing so hard. But it was SO MUCH FUN. From Wendi suggesting that she would push me through a collections area in the bottom of a cart to Becky letting us use the mosasaur puppet she crafted for use with children’s programs, we really took this little film to a level we could be proud of.

We didn’t win this year. (Congratulations, Herman Otto Muzeum of Miskolc, Hungary, for your success in the Museum Dance Off 4: A New Hope! You can watch their video here.) But we did come away with a great experience and ideas for the next dance off.

We’re fun. We’ve got it.

Next year will be our year!

Posing in Archaeology collections with bones

Here, we are in Archaeology’s collections and work area, with Meagan Schoenfelder (right) and Brooke Morgan (left) making this scene amazing. They were so into this portion. It was hilarious and remains one of my favorite shots.

The North Dakota Archives and World War I

WWI Draftees

SHSND D0692. World War I Draftees shown in front of a building.

Harvey Hopkins in WWI uniform

SHSND 21085. Harvey Hopkins is shown in a World War I uniform. Picture taken circa 1917.

These past few months, we have seen an uptick of researchers in the Archives looking for information on World War I. This is at least partially because we are currently a century out from the Great War, as it was known at the time. An event that is so widespread and life-altering across the world evokes curiosity, reminders, and memorials.

You might think we would not have a ton from World War I in our archives, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s true that it is not our largest grouping of collections. However, we are a state entity archiving North Dakota history, and many North Dakotans served and saw battle, or pinched and saved and donated for the cause. The Great War impacted everyone, including North Dakota. Therefore, we have some collections related to it.

WWI Posters

SHSND 10935 P014, 10935 P345, 10935 P149. Several posters from our WWI collection.

One of our most popular World War I collections, #10327, consists of four scrapbooks of letters from soldiers that were printed in various newspapers from 1918 to 1919. These oversized books contain a plethora of snapshots into a different past, allowing soldiers to share details of their daily lives and experiences in their own words.

We also have collections that deal partially with World War I. Collection #10107, for example, contains some correspondence to and from Hazel Nielson o ver several decades. This includes letters from Hazel to her family and friends while she stayed in Europe during World War I.

We also have one of the largest collection of WWI and WWII propaganda posters in the country. This is because one of our past curators, Melvin Gilmore, felt that the war posters documented such an important piece of our history, he needed to save them. He sent out a call for these documents, and received them from all corners of the world. As a result, we have war posters that are in multiple languages and in different conditions. Some are pristine, some are well-used, and all paint an interesting picture of the attitudes at the time of the war.

Screenshot of SHSND website

A screen shot of the WWI page on our website.

More books, documents, and photos can be found searching our website through ODIN, our online database. You can also venture off our website, looking through Digital Horizons, or even skimming through collections we have earmarked as related to World War I on this web page.

This year, as part of the curriculum of Dr. Joseph Stuart’s Great War class at the University of Mary, we were lucky enough to have about 20 interested and excited young men and women visit the Heritage Center and the Archives to research different facets of World War I. The class was composed of college students of different ages and interests, and developed into a cross-discipline event. Some researched war propaganda; some researched specific individuals who served; some researched the components of the mustard gas used in warfare.

Many of the students in the Great War Class at the University of Mary had never been inside an Archives before, and did not know what to expect. They came as a class multiple times, and some continued to come individually. We showed them around our Reading Room and showed them how to use our websites to locate these collections, and then they were free to discover their truths. They were kind and courteous and so excited! Their instructor informed me that at the start of every class, they started talking about what they were researching, what they were learning.

This sort of collaboration is a really cool and different way that we can help new and continuing researchers. It was incredible to watch these eager young adults work, learn, and grow as they developed their research, and as they began to understand what people went through just a century ago.

The Great War was terrible in many ways, but it is helpful to study it and learn from it, for all generations. We are lucky to be able to provide that service, and to see students use our collections to bring new knowledge and perspectives to an old story.

University of Mary students

KFYR photo. One of the students worked at our local news station, and put together a report that aired on local news channels of the work they were doing, still available to read on this page.

Many of the students in the Great War Class at the University of Mary had never been inside an Archives before, and did not know what to expect. They came as a class multiple times, and some continued to come individually. We showed them around our Reading Room and showed them how to use our websites to locate these collections, and then they were free to discover their truths. They were kind and courteous and so excited! Their instructor informed me that at the start of every class, they started talking about what they were researching, what they were learning.

This sort of collaboration is a really cool and different way that we can help new and continuing researchers. It was incredible to watch these eager young adults work, learn, and grow as they developed their research, and as they began to understand what people went through just a century ago.

The Great War was terrible in many ways, but it is helpful to study it and learn from it, for all generations. We are lucky to be able to provide that service, and to see students use our collections to bring new knowledge and perspectives to an old story.