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Students Engage with Historical Documents during Interim

SIOUX FALLS, SD - January finds Augustana students transcribing original historical documents on deposit in the College’s Center for Western Studies archives.

The new course, “Unlocking the Archives,” being taught by the Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Harry Thompson, considers the search for authenticity (truth) through letters, diaries, journals, and photos in scholarship and society. Primary resources are the foundation of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences and are frequently agents of change in novels, drama, and film. Students view and write an analytical essay on such films as “Possession” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

The course supports both Augustana’s major in anthropology and minor in Northern Plains studies. Eighteen students with majors in anthropology, history, government, English, classics, business administration, art, and elementary education are taking the course.

Among the students is Zach Ludens, a senior government major from Parker, S.D., who is transcribing a letter from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, dated March 13, 1878, to the South Dakota Episcopal Bishop William Hare. Other students are working with letters from 1839, describing early missionary activity among the Dakota Sioux in Minnesota, to 1906, providing an eyewitness account of the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

Megan Uthe, a sophomore history major from Madison, S.D., is transcribing an 1873 letter from Mary Collins, a missionary who was befriended by Sitting Bull while serving on the Standing Rock Reservation. The students will also research and write an essay placing the document in its cultural and historical context.

The course provides an introduction to 12 ways the past is being interpreted by scholars today, from empiricism to post-structuralism. Students are also examining online primary documents, including photographs, at major repositories across the United States, including Notre Dame, Brown, the National Archives, and the Library of Congress. They consider not only the letters, diaries, journals, and commonplace books in these collections but also how these documents are used to build online exhibits.

Augustana’s Center for Western Studies provides students access to original documents that are usually found only at major universities. The Center’s former intern, Amanda Jenson, who graduated from Augustana in December 2009, provided a high-resolution scan of an autographed note by Abraham Lincoln to the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project this past summer. In 2000, the Center published a collection of its Civil War letters in “’Drifting to an Unknown Future’: The Civil War Letters of James E. Northup and Samuel W. Northup,” edited by Robert C. Steensma, of the University of Utah. Several Civil War documents from the Center’s archives are on exhibit in the Fantle Building’s Madsen/Nelson/Elmen Galleries on the Augustana campus.

For more information, contact:
Center for Western Studies
Phone: 605.274.4007
cws@augie.edu