NDSU To Offer ‘Prairie Earth, Prairie Homes: A Field School’

North Dakota State University will offer the second annual field school on historic earth buildings, titled “Prairie Earth, Prairie Homes.” The course will be offered at sites across western North Dakota June 11-18. Instructors for the field school are Tom Isern, NDSU University Distinguished Professor of History, and Suzzanne Kelley, president of Preservation North Dakota.

"Building with earth, especially our clay soils in western North Dakota, is a valuable and historic tradition on the northern Plains,” says Isern. “The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara lived in earth lodges centuries before white settlers arrived. White settlers, too, built with earth-cut sod, earth brick and other methods, according to their own traditions and ideas.

“In the field school we travel together to sites where historic earth buildings still stand in the prairie landscape. We study them to learn about them, and also to learn from them, to learn ways of living on the prairies,” Isern said.

The field school includes three days of hands-on restoration work on the historic Hutmacher Farmstead, southeast of Manning in Dunn County. This historic German-Russian farmstead is being restored by Preservation North Dakota under a federal Save America’s Treasures grant. The Hutmacher Farmstead is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an outstanding example of German-Russian folk architecture. Preservation North Dakota is the state’s organization for preservation of historic buildings and landscapes.

The field school may be taken for undergraduate credit, graduate credit, teacher professional development credit or simply as a learning vacation. For information about the field school, call Isern at (701) 799-2942, Kelley at (701) 799-3064, or go to www.historyrfd.net/isern/earth.

There will be modest costs for lodging and meals during the field school. Some of these costs for students will be defrayed by Preservation North Dakota and by the NDSU Center for Heritage Renewal. Information on such costs are available on the website.

“We especially encourage North Dakota teachers to take advantage of this opportunity for professional development,” says Kelley, herself an experienced public school teacher. "This isn’t just for teachers of social studies, either. This is a great experience for teachers of industrial arts, home economics, language arts or really, any subject area.”

Isern says the field school is billed as experiential learning in an unforgettable landscape. “Western North Dakota is truly a fabulous landscape for a summer experience, but the company is great, too. The students travel and learn together and meet the people associated with these historic earth buildings. This is a learning experience you can’t get anywhere else,” he says.