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!

History Nerds Showcase State Museum in Fun Ways

You might have read the title of this blog post and wondered who or what are the history nerds. It all started with a request for me to design a specialty T-shirt for the store at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum.

A green t-shirt that reads North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum - The Place for History Nerds with a pair of black rimmed glasses with tape in the middle below the text

After a few staff in my department bought the tees, we decided to do a photo shoot wearing the shirts to promote them. Why take a standard photo when we could dress up as nerds and showcase areas of the State Museum in fun and creative ways? Just like that, the history nerds were born.

To date, we have done photo shoots in many different areas of the building promoting exhibits, artifacts, holidays, and the Museum Store. Our initial photo shoot was in The Treehouse, a museum exhibit especially for young children that introduces them to the museum world. It seemed like the perfect place for our first photo shoot since the history nerds are really kids at heart.

Two women dressed as nerds sit on wooden horses and pretend to ride them

During each photo shoot, we start with a walk around the location to gather inspiration and see what clever ideas jump out at us. New Views of the Universe: Hubble Space Telescope, a traveling exhibition on loan from NASA in 2017, had a ton of opportunities!

Three women dressed as nerds look as if they're having troubles seeing as they stand in front of a sign that reads More Than the Eye Can See

Three women dressed as nerds stand in front of a sign and are pointing to Where Are We

My favorite photo shoot so far has to be the one with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Each year around Christmastime, we set up a giant inflatable Rudolph in the Northern Lights Atrium. How could we pass up the opportunity to take photos with it? I like to call this one “History Nerd Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

A woman dressed in a Santa hat and Santa slippers is getting stepped on by a large inflatable Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer while two others dressed in Christmas attire try to pull her out

If you come across people at the ND Heritage Center dressed as nerds and wearing the green T-shirts, now you know why. Maybe we’ll even venture out to some of our state historic sites one of these days. In the meantime, you can keep an eye out for the next history nerds post on our Facebook and Instagram accounts. Don’t forget to follow us @ndmuseum!

Until then, we leave you with the Miss America wave goodbye.

Three women dressed in nerd glasses with two of them in suspenders wave at the camera in front of a Miss America display

Fun Finds From Our Social Media Accounts

As the main person responsible for monitoring the State Historical Society’s social media accounts, I always keep an eye on our likes, shares, comments, tags, and incoming messages. Some days can be overwhelming trying to stay on top of it all. Other days a diamond in the rough emerges and makes it all worthwhile.

I recently came across a true gem after receiving an email notification about a comment on one of our YouTube videos. In this video, Curator of Education Erik Holland uses a miniature tipi to demonstrate how to pitch a three-pole tipi. The video was made as a resource for teachers using the educational “Tipi in a Box” program. After reading a couple comments (see below), it soon became clear that some people are watching the video for instructions on how to create mini tipis for animals. How cool is that!

— I'm so happy you were making a tiny tipi...that's what I'm making for the squirrels!

— im making this for my green iguana this is a good tutorial

Graphic of two tan tipis sit next to each other with a squirrel in the doorway of one and a lizard in the doorway of the other.

I knew my niece would get a kick out of the story about people building mini tipis for animals, so I told her and asked if she would create a picture for my blog. She immediately opened Paint 3D on my laptop and got to work on this masterpiece.

Switching from animals to natural disasters, blizzard posts are a huge hit among our social media followers. Our most popular blizzard post on Facebook, marking the 50th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1966, featured photos and information on the blizzard and has over 15,000 likes, comments, and shares! Although it is our most popular blizzard post to date, any post we make about blizzards gets a lot of attention. I’ve tried posts on other natural disasters like floods and tornados to see if they do as well, but our social media audience has spoken, and blizzards it is!

Two cars are shown buried in a snow drift.

Here is one of the photos I included in our Blizzard of 1966 Facebook post. Snow buried these two cars in the Baptist Home’s parking lot in Bismarck. SHSND SA 00056-00046

Since I’m on a roll (pun intended … you’ll understand soon), I’ll share one more post that made me smile for many reasons. The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum was tagged on Instagram by bathroomsofnote. Reading the username made me laugh and wonder what I was in for. It turned out to be about a visitor’s very positive experience with our bathrooms, as you can tell from the following part of their post:

Some of you may already know this, but I'm a huge #museumnerd so I'm absolutely head over heels for these restroom installations in love with these little vignettes on the history of bathrooms, which add a great pop of color to the neutral-toned tile and stalls, and really made me appreciate the little things about the modern restroom experience. Dug the light fixtures soft glow, happy to see accessibility considerations, and having a changing table in the men's room is always appreciated Lots of hands-free stuff here, too, which is nice. All in all I was really impressed by these bathrooms

A public bathroom is pictured with four sinks with mirrors above each with square tiles on the walls and historical posters between each mirror

I had no idea there was an Instagram account dedicated to bathrooms, but I’m very happy they took the time to recognize ours and share their experience with the world. This is one of those tagged posts you never see coming. Knowing that there might be another one like this right around the corner keeps me energized as I continue to monitor our social media accounts.

Thank you to those who have made my day!

North Dakota Passport: A New Way to Explore 37 Featured Destinations

When was the last time you paused on a scenic trail to admire the sights and sounds of nature? Have you truly reflected on the significant people of our past while standing in a historic place?

The State Historical Society of North Dakota and North Dakota Parks & Recreation Department recently teamed up on a project to help residents and out-of-state travelers make the most of their visits to recreational and historical sites throughout the state. Taking on this project while in the middle of a pandemic made us think about things a little differently than we might have otherwise. We decided the way to go would be to promote road trips to destinations with outdoor sights and activities.

A par of shoes, pencil, leather book, compass, and hat sit around a North Dakota Passport book on a wooden floor

The next step was figuring out what the end product would be. What we came up with is the North Dakota Passport, an 88-page book featuring 37 destinations. At each location, participants can get a unique stamp. All but one of the locations in the book have an outdoor Passport Station where visitors can transfer the stamp to the book by rubbing on the page with a crayon. The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum’s Passport Station is located indoors. Staffed locations also have a stamp available indoors.

A wooden post with an ND TRSP plaque hung on the top and a Passport Station sign hung on the front

Because North Dakota’s weather can be unpredictable, we went with durable, waterproof paper for the front and back covers. The inside pages are also a bit thicker than your average paper to hold up better when transferring the stamps at Passport Stations. We chose a spiral binding, which makes the pages nice and secure while allowing them to be fully turned.

We wanted it to be easy for people to carry the books around while exploring, so a drawstring backpack is included with the purchase of a North Dakota Passport. We also added a package of crayons, since we didn’t want people to arrive at a Passport Station with no way to transfer the design to their book.

Each location listed in the book includes background information, amenities, pictures, contact information, social media handles, must-see-and-do activities, and a fun fact or two.

This project was very collaborative between the two agencies—from design to text to marketing and everything in between. The staff at Parks & Recreation were great to work with, and I look forward to partnering with them on more projects!

A spiral bound book open to a page reading North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum with a stamp on it sits on top of a round rock with a glass building in the background

Where will you visit first? My first stamp is from the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum since I work there, but I can’t wait to collect them from all 37 state historic sites and museums, state parks, and recreation destinations! Share your adventures on social media using #explore701.

To learn more and purchase your North Dakota Passport, visit parkrec.nd.gov/passport.

Producing Facebook Live Streams: Where the Magic Happens

Overseeing social media for both the agency and North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum’s pages, I’m always on the lookout for future or trending hashtags. When I saw upcoming national #AskACurator and #AskAnArchivist days, I knew we needed to participate with our staff experts in those areas. But how?

My first thought was to do a Facebook Live session, but with some staff working from home and social distancing in the office, I wasn’t sure how that would work. Since Microsoft Teams has worked well for our meetings, I wondered if there was some way that we could do a Facebook Live stream via Teams. That’s when I turned to my best friend Google for help.

Thanks to a Google search, I found out this was doable. Woohoo! After a bit of research on the different software available and reading other users’ reviews online, I picked the one I thought would work best for our needs. I pitched OBS Studio, software for video recording and live streaming, to our IT staff and received approval to download and test it out. Then I dug right in. I was excited to see if this software would actually work in the way I imagined it would!

It took some tinkering and a few more Google searches to figure things out, but eventually it came together. I did a trial run with a couple of people, which went smoothly. Next came the real test, however. Would it work with more people and when we were live rather than on a test run?

five women are shown in their own squares on a computer screen. All are looking at the camera smiling.

Our first #AskAnArchivist panelists posed for a group photo before our livestream started.

It did! We have had four successful Facebook Live streams via Teams so far and will continue to do these monthly. I still get nervous before each one, though, because there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to make them run smoothly.

Two computers, two sets of headphones, and a dash of magic (“Tech Wizard”, after all, is my middle name) go into making these sessions happen. One computer runs Teams, the software, and the Facebook Live setup. The other runs Teams and the actual Facebook Live stream to make sure it looks and sounds as it should.

A woman sits at a desk wearing two different headphones with a laptop and another computer monitor running Teams and Facebook Live. Also on the desk are a computer mouse, keyboard, sunglasses, water bottle, telephone, stuffed t rex, and other odds and ends.

My setup for the livestreams. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the positions of each person are a little different on all three open windows.

Why have Teams running on both computers? Besides running the software, I also have to message the presenters to let them know when to start and stop as well as monitor any questions that come in during the livestream. I then send the questions via Teams to the moderator. That way she doesn’t have to worry about monitoring the Facebook chat while also moderating the conversation. We find this setup works really well. Technically, I could do it all on the computer running the livestream, but I try to do as little as possible on that for fear of messing something up and having the livestream drop.

There is about a 15-second delay between Teams and the Facebook Live stream, so it can get quite hectic trying to listen to both and determine when to have the presenters start and stop. During the initial session, our presenters sat in awkward silence for the first and last 15 seconds. With each new livestream we have cut that time down. One of these days, maybe we’ll get the timing just right …maybe.

Although it takes work to make these livestreams happen, it is well worth it. People really enjoy them, especially watching us almost immediately answer questions they have just sent us. We look forward to continuing these monthly sessions on Facebook under their new name, #AskUsLive, and hope that you will join us next time!