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History of North Dakota

By Elwyn B. Robinson

Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, 1995, 610 pages, Softcover.


Elwyn Robinson's sweeping History of North Dakota has become a classic in American state histories. One of the state's great professors and historians takes into account not only politics, but sociology, economics, ethnology, theology, nature studies and geography to describe North Dakota to the world and to itself.

Geography, in particular, formed the basis of Professor Robinson's historical interpretation. His "too-much mistake," the belief that North Dakota built too much, too fast, in an isolated area buffed by a difficult climate, has become the guiding principle for a quarter century of historical debate on Dakota plains history.

An Excerpt from History of North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt in Medora, early 1880s The "Heroes of Dakota" started Robinson's quest for an understanding of North Dakota's past. In 1958 as part of the University of North Dakota's 75th anniversary celebration, he shared the results of almost ten years of research with the public. In an address entitled "The Themes of North Dakota History" he laid out the context for his study of the state. He explained that "as thoughtful people we are always seeking to understand the world around us. One way is the observation of patterns, of the recurrence of somewhat similar events. Recurrence may reveal relationships or truths.... Historical themes are patterns of many events." He continued, "That is what I am attempting to do, to relate the events of North Dakota history to a handful of themes." Robinson enunciated six themes: remoteness, dependence, radicalism, a position of economic disadvantage, the Too-Much Mistake, and adjustment.

He held that all six themes sprang from geographic facts: the state's location in the continental center, the cool and subhumid climate, and the differences in climate between the state's eastern and western regions. "The influence of these facts," Robinson maintained, "is seen in every aspect of North Dakota history."

Joseph and Annie Burkholder family, Towner County, North Dakota, 1901 (Fred Hulstrand History in Pictures colection, NDIRS, NDSU, Fargo, ND)
Bandleader Lawrence Welk, 1940's, a native of Strasburg, North Dakota

About the Author

Elwyn Burns Robinson retired from the University of North Dakota in 1974 with the school's highest rank - University Professor. That distinction reflected the excellence of his scholarship, his skill in the classroomn, and his dedicatd service in many capacities within the university, the state, and the profession. Until his death in 1988 he continued to reflect upon and write about the Great Plains experience.


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