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 Heritage” Videos: Showcasing the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Collections

The State Historical Society of North Dakota has over 14 million artifacts in its museum, archives, and archaeology collections. That’s a lot! To showcase more of these, we’ve started a new video series called “Our Heritage.” Each month’s video features artifacts related to a prominent North Dakotan, historical topic, or related theme and are presented by a member of our staff who’s an expert on or has a passion for the subject.

Our Heritage is typed over many historic images from North Dakota.

Our first video, which premiered in January, focused on Fannie Dunn Quain, North Dakota’s first licensed female physician. Sarah Walker, head of reference services in the State Archives, pulled the Fannie Dunn Quain papers from the collections to discuss and show who this trailblazer was.

Next up was a two-part video with Security Supervisor David Schlecht highlighting some of the firearms in the museum gun vault. This represented just a small sampling of the more than 500 firearms in our gun vault. We feel very lucky to have a Smith & Wesson Model 320 Revolving Rifle with a 20-inch barrel since only about 244 of these were ever made.

April’s video was very timely and my personal favorite so far as I had no idea at least three passengers on the RMS Titanic had ties to North Dakota. Here, Head of Reference Services Sarah Walker tells the stories of Ole Ableseth, Herbert and Carrie Chaffee, and Johannes Nysveen. An audio clip from Ole Ableseth talking about his experience on the Titanic will be sure to pull at your heartstrings.

Our newest video, scheduled to be published May 21, features Captain Joseph Enright, the officer credited with sinking the largest warship by a U.S. submarine. Learn more about Enright from State Historical Society Director Bill Peterson and see some of the pins he received for his service in the U.S. Navy.

We really enjoy making these videos and hope you enjoy watching them and learning more about our collections. See the videos at We won’t tell you what videos are planned for the next few months, but we will say one will be with multiple people from different departments within the agency discussing artifacts related to the chosen topic. It will be a great collaboration!

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!

What is a New Media Specialist?

I often get asked what I do for work. If I say new media specialist supervisor people tend to look at me with a blank stare. I then briefly explain what my team and I do to help them get an idea of the scope of our work. I’ll break down the main areas below.

We are responsible for keeping the agency’s websites updated. This includes not only content but also Drupal updates. What is Drupal you ask? Drupal is the content management system (CMS) most of our websites use. I recently spent many of my days and nights Drupaling. This was due to a major Drupal upgrade that required recoding our websites. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I now know what a Twig file is, and it has nothing to do with a tree.

This code snippet is what makes the menu work on the State Museum website.

We design many, many graphics in all different forms, from ads to brochures and flyers to billboards to PowerPoint presentations to exhibits to store merchandise to publications to digital signage and everything in between. Have you seen the Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style exhibit at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum? The logo, all the fabric walls and information panels for each section, exhibit card, ads, and video wall graphics were designed by our team of new media specialists.

This photo of Fashion & Function showcases some of the graphic elements we designed for the exhibit, including fabric walls, rail panel, and logo. On the far right side you can also see part of an upright panel.

Social Media
Some people think social media is just about creating posts, but there’s a lot more to managing these accounts. It also means adding events, responding to messages, monitoring comments, and reviewing insights and stats for posts to see how well they did so we know what content interests our followers. It requires striking a careful balance of posting enough but not too much.

Photography is a big part of our job here. It seems like there’s always something that needs to be photographed, both for marketing and archival purposes. If a new exhibit goes up, we take pictures. If an object needs to be photographed, we take pictures. If we have an event, we take pictures. You get the point.

This is one of my favorite photos and not just because it’s of my niece. We’ve used it in ads with the headline “Anything is fossil-ble.”

Video Production
It seems we are doing more video production every day. We take care of everything involved in video production from start to finish. This includes helping write scripts when needed, hauling equipment, lighting, filming, scanning or photographing items to include, editing the video and audio, captioning, and exporting the final video to the necessary format. Our YouTube channel includes many of the videos we’ve produced.

At the moment, we are working on a fun animation project and plan to do more in the future. One of our animations shows the ground sloth Megalonyx transforming from its skeleton to how it likely appeared with an overlay of fur. This helps people visualize the animal beyond the fossil. We also animated the logo for Fashion & Function to look like a neon light turning on since the sign in the exhibit is neon.

There are other odds and ends that we do as well, but these are the main duties we take care of while also staying on top of design trends and incorporating them into our work. I love the variety my job offers each day and never have to worry about being bored!

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