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.

National History Day: The Kids Are All Right

I have good news and bad news. First: the bad news—we are living in troubled times. However, that’s not really news. As a historian, I assure you, people have always been living in troubled times. Now: the good news—I have seen the future, and things are looking up. I see the future each year as students from around the state participate in the National History Day in North Dakota contest.

Group photo of NHD award winners

Students and teachers from Elgin-New Leipzig Public School participated in National History Day in North Dakota on April 7, 2017.

The state contest is affiliated with the National History Day contest that takes place in College Park, Maryland, in June. Similar to a science fair, the national contest has been around since the 1970s. If you ever need proof that the kids are alright, I encourage you to visit the National History Day website and review some of the past contest entries. I think you’ll agree with me that these kids are ready to take on the world.

Display board featuring Galileo

Exhibit Entry, Galileo, from the 2018 National History Day in North Dakota State Competition, Junior Group Exhibit, by Abigale Berger and Ruby Brunn of Dickinson Middle School.

Display board featuring Chicago skyscrapers

Exhibit Entry, Tragedy of the Great Fire and Triumph of Skyscraper City, from the 2019 National History Day Contest. 1st Place Senior Group Exhibit.

We work with teachers across the state all year to plan the state contest held each April. Workshops for educators and students in grades 6-12 provide a general overview of the program. We break things down into digestible parts that include selecting a topic, conducting historical research, and creating a contest entry. Entry categories include papers, documentaries, websites, performances, or exhibits. Students can work individually or in groups of up to five students. They compete to qualify for school, regional, state, and national contests. We also provide training to help students do more in-depth research, and better understand what our judges are looking for.

Documentary Entry, Echo of Falling Water: The Inundation of Celilo Falls, from the 2019 National History Day Contest. 1st Place Senior Group Documentary.

I’m so passionate about this program because students learn a variety of skills through National History Day, including strengthening their reading, research, and writing abilities. They select a historical topic they are personally interested in, which helps make history relevant and exciting. They flex their creativity muscles in developing an entry for the category of their choice. Research skills help with critical thinking and a build a more rigorous framework to analyze information. If they choose to work in a group, they learn collaboration skills. Explaining their work to adult judges helps them develop communication skills.

Performance Entry, Territorial Diplomacy: Seo Hui’s Compromise and Demands for the Goryeo Dynasty, from the 2018 National History Day Contest. 1st Place Senior Group Performance.

If you are a parent, student, or educator who would like to learn more about participating in National History Day in North Dakota, please contact me, Dani Stuckle, at or 701.328.2794. Our pool of judges includes a wide-range of professional backgrounds. Judges work in teams where seasoned judges help new judges learn the ropes. Contact me as soon as possible to be added to the 2020 judge roster. The state contest will be on Friday, April 17, 2020 at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck. The contest is open to the public.

If you need to know that our future is in good hands, come check these entries out. You’ll go away feeling very reassured that things will be okay. Learn more at or

Museum Preparator: Other Duties as Assigned

As I noted in a post last year, a museum preparator handles objects from storage to display, ensuring they are safe and secure while allowing the public to have the optimal viewing experience. And, preparators have to be ready…in other words, prepared…for anything.

Sometimes you never know what is going to pop up. No matter how much you plan there seems to always be one thing or another that is going to be a challenge. That does make the day go by quicker, though!

Sometimes things happen that are unexpected. Like the roof being torn off one of our artifact storage buildings during a June 2018 storm, and water everywhere. A temporary wall was needed to protect artifacts, and cleanup was necessary from the debris. We ended up building a plastic sheeting wall, until the ceiling could be closed up and a more permanent fix could be found. This picture shows a little more natural light than what is recommended.

damaged ceiling showing debris and sky viewable through large holes

I created a hands-on experience in our Treehouse exhibit for young visitors. This was a project that evolved over time as I found more items. Used in this build:

  • Blackhawk helicopter engine repair cage
  • Salvage fireplace insert
  • Gauges from state surplus
  • Sewing machine parts
  • A broken back check valve from my sprinklers
  • Various acetylene torch apparatus
  • An original boiler gauge from the State Capitol building
  • Various handles from obsolete shop equipment
  • Authentic train CB radio
  • Various pipe and plumbing supplies

photo collage: left side, black box with fake fire graphic on bottom; righ side: view of the front with dials, guages, etc.

boy playing with the train box

To create our latest Governors Gallery exhibit, we were tasked with coming up with a design that was modern in feel, “easy” to produce, and could be reused from exhibit to exhibit if needed. This is the scale production of the design for our aluminum upright signage.

small scale display mockup featuring a sticker graphic on front

Hmmm, how to get an artifact — in this case, a fire wagon, now on exhibit in The Horse in North Dakota — that was too long onto a platform, which was the only way to get it into the museum? The solution was to use the forklift to raise the front with the back on the platform (then drive forward with the forklift and set it down once it was on the main level). Not so bad, but it did take many spotters to make sure that all was going according to plan.

Antique fire wagon in a garage in front of a raised platform

In this photo from Camp Hancock State Historic Site in Bismarck, I am standing on the newly installed rough cut white oak boards sourced from northern Minnesota. It was a challenge to find the thickness, width, and species of wood that would be consistent with the original build. The boards I found are actually used in the trucking industry to deck trailers hauling heavy equipment.

Bryan standing on top of a train

If I do my job right no one should notice — but sometimes they do, and that’s the best!

Bryan and young museum visitor smiling at dino bones