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.

Our Agency Website Is Getting an Overhaul!

If you’ve visited our website,, lately, you’ve probably noticed it looks outdated and isn’t mobile friendly. Soon (within the next year or so) we will have a new website! Why so long you ask? There’s a lot that goes into redesigning a website of that size.

The homepage of our current website.

The first thing I looked at was how many pages are on our current website and how we could reduce that number. Some pages had old versions that were still on the website with no way to get to them other than using the search feature. I spent many hours going through all the pages on the website and getting rid of old and duplicate ones. This will make transferring necessary pages to the new website much easier and quicker.

The next item I looked at was website navigation. Our current site doesn’t have the most user-friendly navigation, and we want to make sure visitors can quickly and easily find information. I started looking at other state historical societies’ websites to see how their navigation is set up and how they’re grouping different sections. Our new site will reflect a mix of different societies’ navigation features that we think will work well for us.

In the header, the light copper is being used behind the logo and tagline, while the dark copper will be used for the navigation and extend the whole width of the page.

After those two steps came the design. Because we have so many other websites, we wanted to keep a design that’s different enough to stand alone but also similar enough to look like it’s part of our family of websites. We accomplished this by using the dark and light copper from,, and in different ways but still in the header and footer. The homepage will feature a large, beautiful image of one of our state museums or historic sites that will change with each page refresh.

The next step is coding the website, which I’m currently in the process of doing. Our new website is being built in Drupal, a content management system. This will allow us to edit content from anywhere with an internet connection by simply logging into the website as an administrator.

Once the coding is finished, it will be time to transfer content from the old site to the new site. We will be updating some of the text and many of the images to keep with the fresh look and feel of the new website.

Throughout the last two steps, there will be a lot of testing on my part to make sure everything is functioning properly on the website’s desktop, tablet, and mobile versions as we add more pages and content.

I would love to show you the look of the new website, but then there wouldn’t be a big reveal once it’s ready, so for now I’ll leave you with this little sneak peek. Enjoy, and stay tuned for the launch of the new website!

Objects and Their Unwritten Histories

As an intern at the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Audience Engagement & Museum Department, I have spent the past several months inventorying items stored in the collections that lack documented history. Since these objects don’t have a written history, I can only imagine the life each must have lived before entering the ND Heritage Center & State Museum’s walls.

However, much can be learned from the objects themselves. Since these don’t have a written history, I find myself paying closer attention to minute details. Each object becomes a little mystery, a puzzle for me to solve. Below are a few objects that have piqued my interest.

1. Pillow shams

PEB-00992, 00993

These pillow shams intrigued me because of the amount of effort that must have gone into creating them. On each is depicted a woman with text reading respectively, “Good morning,” or “Good night.” On the morning sham, the woman stands outside with plants at her feet, vines encircling her, as a bird flies nearby. The night sham shows the woman holding a candle and the hem of her dress in one hand and waving a handkerchief through the air with the other. Why? It is hard to know without documented history of the object and information about the maker.

As someone who has had the same unfinished COVID-19-sparked embroidery project sitting in a box untouched since July 2020, I can only dream of having the patience and persistence to complete such a project. The embroidered borders are what really show the extent of effort required. What a tedious task! Kudos to the creator!

2. Ice cream scoop holder


Initially this object looked just like a regular goblet for drinking, but upon closer inspection I noticed that there was a clear hole straight through it to the base. As opposed to a drinking goblet, this item turned out to be specifically designed to hold paper cups full of ice cream. In the early 1900s, added pressure and restrictions were put on soda and ice cream parlors to ensure that their establishments were hygienic and thoroughly sanitizing their glasses. Cup holders such as this one were created and marketed to the shops in order to provide an easier and cheaper method of sanitization. The hole in the center holds a disposable paper cup, making cleanup easier. These metal cup holders were also advertised as being a cheaper option than glasses.

3. Shoehorn


Sometimes I look at an object and suddenly realize that a question about the universe I had never thought to ask has just been answered for me. That is what I felt as I gazed at this shoehorn, broken but retaining a clear and familiar shape even without its end. The object’s name suddenly made much more sense.

“Huh … shoe … horn. So that is where that name comes from.”

Shoehorns are tools that make it easier to get your heel down into a tight shoe. While they have faded in popularity over time, they remain an important accessibility tool for many people. Modern shoehorns are often made of durable plastic. However, the original material they were made from, animal horn, can be seen in the example above and likely gave the tool its name.

4. Asbestos iron


When I looked at this sad iron, the word “asbestos” across the top caught my attention. I immediately did some research and learned that asbestos was once commonly used to line and insulate sad iron covers in order to allow the iron to hold heat longer and to prevent the user from being burned. Though this handy innovation may not have any documentation telling its specific history, the item itself reveals a dark story in light of what we now know about the health impacts of asbestos exposure.

It's interesting what a single object can tell you if you take the time to listen and pay attention to the little details that make even everyday items useful and unique.