UND English Department course puts popular Prairie Public Radio program on paper

UND English Department course puts popular Prairie Public Radio program on paper

English instructor David Haeselin holds a copy of Dakota Datebook: North Dakota Stories from Prairie Public. Published by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, the compilation of the popular radio program’s short historical features was edited by Haeselin and a team of 16 student-editors. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Thanks to the work of 16 student-editors and UND English instructor David Haeselin, one of Prairie Public Radio’s popular broadcasts now exists as a physical volume.

Dakota Datebook: North Dakota Stories from Prairie Public is the latest work released by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.

Throughout the spring, Haeselin and his writing, editing and publishing practicum course produced a 365-entry compilation of the now-17-year-old radio program, one entry for each day of the year.

As described by its originator and Prairie Public’s Director of Radio, Bill Thomas, Dakota Datebook is a chronological cross-section of what makes North Dakota the place that it is – from the state’s idiosyncrasies to its position in world history.

Window into home

“When I moved to the Red River Valley in 2015, I didn’t know much about North Dakota,” said Haeselin, a native of New York state. “So I tuned in to the local public radio station.”

Haeselin started listening to Dakota Datebook in the morning. Each installment is read by Merrill Piepkorn and written by a corps of contributors.

In two-to-three-minute increments, Haeselin’s window into his new home expanded. He made a point to catch the program each morning and grew enamored with it.

By the time he had a year of teaching his writing, editing and publishing course under his belt, resulting in the publication of Haunted By Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997, Haeselin’s mind jumped to Dakota Datebook as an achievable challenge for students.

In Fall 2018, Haeselin reached out to Thomas at Prairie Public, saying he had a group of brilliant and engaged students who wanted to collaborate with Prairie Public and its Dakota Datebook partners. Thomas was on board right away.

“He told me [Prairie Public] had always been thinking of doing a book version of the program,” Haeselin said. “He also thought it was the perfect opportunity to get young people engaged with the material.”

Through extensive discussions as a ‘small publishing company,’ Haeselin’s students grew determined to craft a fresh, inclusive narrative for North Dakota’s history using Dakota Datebook‘s vast archive. Image courtesy of Sheila Liming.

More than ‘greatest hits’

Given his class size of 16 students, Haeselin was able to assign Dakota Datebook entries year by year.

Though the editors-in-the-making weren’t creating a new work from scratch, as with Haunted By Waters, selecting a single entry for each calendar day out of the entire archive was no small feat. Dakota Datebook has aired weekdays since 2003.

“We wanted to create something that wasn’t just a ‘greatest hits’ collection,” said Haeselin of the curation process.

Rather, the team of students embraced their role in shaping a fresh narrative for North Dakota. The history that residents know can often be told in monolithic terms: Scandinavian and German settlers came to the region and tamed the prairie.

“As is so common in history, the stories that are often preserved and made readily available are from only one perspective,” said Daria Ferguson, one of the student-editors, a senior English major originally from Saline, La.

For that reason, she said, the group gravitated toward stories about women’s rights and indigenous history, among other less-celebrated topics. As they worked through the source material, they discovered the important role Dakota Datebook played in framing a history they thought they all knew.

“They were excited to see how the program actually speaks to the different kinds of people who have made the state what it is,” Haeselin said. “Pretty much everyone — the whole gamut of human culture — has lived in North Dakota.”

As the project developed, students realized how North Dakota’s history is deeply tied to prevalent phases of United States history. The conditions of the Great Depression, for example, gripped the region in their own, unique way. Image courtesy of Sheila Liming.

Strengthened connections

Christina Walker, another student-editor who’s now a graduate student in the English department, said she learned about Lewis & Clark and Teddy Roosevelt when she visited family in North Dakota from Creston, B.C., during her childhood. But, beyond what she saw at museums, she didn’t think much happened in the region.

“A lot of what I uncovered through the material showed that North Dakota participated in — and is affected by — larger, nation-based events,” Walker told UND Today. “In creating this book, we were beginning to include North Dakota in a larger narrative; one that says stuff does happen here, that North Dakota isn’t separate from the history of the United States.”

Walker pointed out topics such as the Great Depression and bootlegging – moments and phases in the country’s history that happened to uniquely impact North Dakota.

“The class taught me new ways of engaging with historical material,” she remarked. “The practicum course was a cool experience that had both theoretical and hands-on learning that I don’t think could be replicated the same way, elsewhere.

“I also got to strengthen my connection to the state I’m living in. I used to look at my great grandma’s photo albums of the family farms out in Carrington [N.D.] and I couldn’t see much beyond family history. But now I feel a much stronger connection to the state that I’m in, to my family’s homestead and to UND.”

From left to right, (top row) Christina Walker, Allison Gorres, Tanner Hostetter, Heather Nagengast, (middle row) Madelyn Gentile, Bailey Baesler, Sheena Hellekson, Elsa Condit, (bottom row) Katherine Byers, Morgan Young, Daria Ferguson and Sav Kelly are all credited as student-editors of Dakota Datebook, alongside instructor David Haeselin (middle right). Editors not pictured are Ana Chisholm, Alexandria Stroh and Brandon Weber. Image courtesy of Sheila Liming.

Real-world experience

Another objective for the Dakota Datebook project was collaboration. In designing the class, Haeselin wanted students to learn a variety of skills, given the scope of writing, editing and publishing. Working on a real-world publishing project with a variety of organizations was the best way to ensure that, he said.

Not only did the class coordinate with Prairie Public, but the radio program itself is a collaboration with the State Historical Society, which provides access to archives and fact-checks articles. The programming also gets funding from Humanities ND.

“Students got to see how much work and how many hands go into something that can last and flourish for 17 years,” Haeselin said.

This sense of collaboration spilled into the students’ “small publishing company,” he added.

As Haeselin broke the students into groups, they leaned on each other in ways that “encouraged better work, beyond what the grades or evaluations could.”

“It was eye-opening to see just how many people it took to make a project like this come to life, and how important it was to listen to each other’s ideas and opinions,” said Ferguson, now a student in another editing class taught by Haeselin. “I can definitely say I learned a lot about editing and publishing through this course.”

Dakota Datebook: North Dakota Stories from Prairie Public is available for purchase at Prairie Public and Amazon, and also available as a free e-book at this link.