nd.gov - The Official Portal for North Dakota State Government
North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

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!

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.

Inventor John D. Kirschmann: Part I

In June 2019, the North Dakota State Archives received the papers of inventor John D. Kirschmann. For many Midwesterners, the name Kirschmann is instantly recognizable because of the agricultural machinery and products he developed and distributed. For others, like myself (who grew up in a city), the name may be new. As I worked on the Kirschmann papers, I increasingly understood the significance of the technological advancements he facilitated. I also recognized that the agricultural piece is one of many elements in a story of an entrepreneurial genius whose curiosity led directly to improvements in the lives of farmers and city dwellers alike.

Kirschmann was so prolific that his story will require several entries. This first blog post is the beginning of his story...

Portrait of John Kirschmann

John D. Kirschmann, circa 1941 (11400-00002)

John D. Kirschmann was born and raised in a German-speaking household in Regent, North Dakota, where he attended school until the fifth grade. He struggled in the classroom because of the language barrier, and later noted that he received his basic education from his father in German.

Kirschmann learned best by experimentation and asking questions: an inquisitive child, John sought to understand how things worked so that he could rework and improve them. By age 10, he was able to operate any implement needed to prepare a field for planting, and as a teenager began experimenting with improvements to existing farm machinery. This led to the development of his own machines, which were initially built from scrap metal and used parts.

During his youth, Kirschmann was an active hunter, selling pelts of rabbits, weasels, badgers, and skunks for seed money to start new enterprises. One early business was a turkey ranch that he established and operated while also working for his father.

As a teenager, Kirschmann was already a master at recognizing a need or a problem and constructing solutions from minimal resources. He invented a trip-back scraper to clean between the lugs of a tractor, which he manufactured from scrap iron and sold to neighbors. He also built a water pumping device to irrigate several acres of garden that his father let him develop. To construct the pump and trough, Kirschmann used old tractor pistons, cylinders, and one-gallon oil cans. This invention successfully brought water from a nearby lake, crossed a road, and irrigated the garden without use of solder, glue, cement, or pipe.

As he neared adulthood and prepared to go off on his own, Kirschmann fixed up junk grain drills and resold them. He used that money to buy more parts, from which he built a tractor. With that tractor he raked the neighbors’ thistles, and by the end of the season, had purchased an IHC Farmall tractor. The following year, in 1941, he received 320 acres of land his father had purchased. The land was full of weeds and had not been plowed or farmed. John plowed half of it, planted wheat, and had a great yield that year.

As the years continued, Kirschmann acquired farm land and businesses, becoming an Oliver Machinery Dealer and a Chrysler Plymouth dealer in Regent. In establishing the Plymouth dealership, Kirschmann was the architect and construction supervisor. He invented a bricklaying machine to speed up the process after the bricklayer quit. In a few years, when the Oliver self-propelled combine came out, Kirschmann Motors sold more than any other Oliver dealer in the United States.

Exterior of Chrysler dealershp with a car visible through the window

Kirschmann Chrysler Plymouth Dealership, Regent, ND (11400-00004)

Kirschmann’s resourcefulness extended beyond his business career into his personal life. During World War II, while the family remained on the farm, John moved into Regent. He needed a home and decided to build one out of materials that did not require a permit. He acquired and constructed his home entirely out of 40” x 40” sheets of glass, 4” strips of oak flooring, ½” thick plywood, a few nails, and brass screws. He then constructed five Federal Housing Administration homes for the garage and farm workers. One of the five homes was a brick house laid by the machine Kirschmann had developed to construct his dealership. Examiners and residents were astonished by the workmanship of the home and how accurately the bricks were laid (they did not know about the machine). The bricklayer in Regent was speechless after the machine was used to construct a large, five-bedroom ranch home for the Kirschmann family in Regent.

If you are interested in learning more, look for the next installment in this series this fall.

Spra-Coupe by Kirschmann advertisement

Advertisement for Kirschmann’s “Spra-Coupe.” Look for more information on this invention and its impact on North Dakota in the next blog installment. (11400)