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.

The State Archives has a large collection of film and video. The largest collections come from television stations, professional filmmakers, and state agencies. One other genre of moving images we collect is family home movies. Why would the archives be interested in an individual’s home movies? The answer is simple - because home movies often show us what life was like in the past in North Dakota. Events like birthday parties, weddings, and Christmas parties are part of our culture, and seeing these events on film can give us a perspective about how life in the past compares to life in the present. We are particularly interested in preserving North Dakota scenes such as farming, ranching, parades, athletic events, and natural disasters. Many of the scenes that will be featured in the new Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today came from home movies donated to the State Archives. This gallery opens on November 2, 2014.

One film collection was recently donated to the archives by Eileen Mork, niece of Hatton native and famous pioneer aviator Carl Ben Eielson. The collection of 8mm film was shot by her father, Elmer Osking, between 1938 and 1955. Shooting film was a hobby of his, and there are some really nice scenes in the collection from the Hatton area. There is some aerial footage of the countryside prior to rural electrification. Wow! We are so used to seeing miles and miles of power lines and poles, it was really neat to see what it looked like before. This collection does have a lot of out-of-state family vacations, which we don’t necessarily want to collect, but having the North Dakota scenes is well worth taking the collection in and keeping it together.

Elmer Osking Film

Kodak film box with the description “Eastern Star Style Show 1950” from The Osking film collection

Formats of home movies have changed throughout the years and will continue to evolve. Home movie collections in the archives include 16mm, 8mm, VHS, 8mm tape, and DV CAM. We are able to convert all these to a digital format for preservation, copying, and easy editing.

8mm Projector Camera

Used in digitizing regular 8mm and super 8mm film

If you have home movies, please do not throw them away. If you have film shot in North Dakota that you are willing to donate, check with us at the State Archives to see whether it fits our needs. We can digitize the film and provide donors with a free copy. Most importantly, we will preserve the film so future generations can see the past.

Here are some of the other film and video collections at the state archives: