I am a professional historian living and working in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I earned my Ph.D. in History at the University of Iowa in 2016, and have been working as a Senior Historian at Vantage Point Historical Services, Inc. in Rapid City ever since. Before graduate school, I earned a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from Black Hills State University. Then I spent a year as a journalist, researcher, and public historian, and for six months, worked under the tribal liaison in the office of (now retired) U.S. Senator Tim Johnson in South Dakota. When it came time for graduate school, I moved to Iowa with my lovely wife Samantha and our
boss dog, Nigel. We spent four great years living and working amidst the cornstalks, but are excited to be back in South Dakota.
I created this site to showcase my work and illustrate how historical thinking and research are both a passion and a profession. After all, as the historian Robert Archibald writes, “Those who forget the past, or who choose to ignore or obliterate it, will behave as if there is no future. And those who behave as if there is no future mortgage the planet and trample on the rights of the unborn. To think with a consciousness of the past is to be able to think on a long term basis both about the past and the future.”
Growing up in the Black Hills of South Dakota, you’re both steeped in and shielded from regional history. On one hand, the booming tourism industry and regional pride offer constant reminders of our collective past. From Mount Rushmore, to Crazy Horse Memorial, to Deadwood, the lessons and tensions of communal history are omnipresent. On the other, however, the narratives at these places can obscure the troubled history of the state I call home.
During college, I began to recognize the connections between the Black Hills’ past and some ugly realities of our present. South Dakota is an odd paradox of overwhelming success and systemic inequality. In 2013, CNBC named us the “top state for business,” but South Dakota also houses six of the eleven counties with the lowest per capita income in America. All of them are situated on or near American Indian reservations. My home town, Rapid City, is similarly stricken: it rests in the heart of sacred Lakota land, but the town itself is segregated along racial and economic lines. The dispossession of Native land and the erasure of that story have everything to do with those statistics. When I decided to become a professional historian, I set out to understand how this came to pass and why it continues to grip my community, as well as other parts of the US.
Most of my scholarly work as tended to focus on the fields of Native American, environmental, and U.S. political history. Since working at Vantage Point, however, I have also grown very interested in business and institutional history, not to mention the intellectual and creative art of exhibit design. I’m also now a big lover of biography (both the reading and writing of them), a genre that has proven a surprisingly challenging and fulfilling way to learn about several different strands of history at once. Digital history was an interest of mine at UI, and and I’ve been expanding my knowledge of digital tools and new media platforms through which to present my work. Lately, I’ve been exploring the interconnections between all these new and old interests, and some really fun projects have been the result.
My dissertation, “Red Earth Nation: Environment and Sovereignty in Modern Meskwaki History,” examined the ways in which the members of the Meskwaki Nation, a small American Indian community in central Iowa, have used their unique position as the first Native community to repurchase their land in the late nineteenth century, an era known for the confinement of Native peoples to reservations, to bolster their tribal sovereignty. When I moved to Iowa, I was excited at the opportunity to get to know a new history and a new Native community than that with which I had grown up. Five years later, I’ve shown how, rather than being placed on a federally-assigned “reservation,” members of the Meskwaki Nation purchased their “settlement” in 1857, and in so doing began a process of sovereign assertion that is still underway and undergirded by their land ownership and political tenacity. That project also won the 2017 Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation from the American Society of Environmental Historians. You can read about that work here.
I love being in the classroom, and have taught sections of early and modern American History, and had a great time designing and teaching a course called “Global Indigenous Struggles since 1900.” I recently taught a section of Western Civilizations at Black Hills State University-Rapid City.
In my spare time, I’m revising my dissertation for publication with a university press. I also have an article forthcoming from the Great Plains Quarterly on President Calvin Coolidge’s historic visit to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1927. Another piece, which I wrote with Art Marmorstein and Matt Remmich, focuses on the role of Jewish political activists in South Dakota, and is forthcoming in an edition from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press in 2018.
This summer I gave a couple of talks with my friend Seth Tupper, a reporter at the Rapid City Journal, whose new book about the Coolidge Summer came out in May 2017. I’m also giving a couple of talks about the history of the Duhamel Sioux Indian Pageant that was created by the Lakota Holy Man Nicholas Black Elk and ran from 1927 to 1957 on the property of Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns outside Rapid City.
Updated October 2017