Gustavus Adolphus College Professor of English Elizabeth Baer has been invited to speak at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York City on May 22. The invitation to speak is in conjunction with the display of the exhibit “Commemorating Controversy: the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862” which was created by a 2012 January Term class co-taught by Baer and then-Executive Director of the Nicollet County Historical Society Ben Leonard.
The 12-panel exhibit explores the war’s causes, voices, events, and long-lasting consequences. It has been well received by tens of thousands of visitors and has won several awards.
The exhibit debuted at the College’s 2012 Building Bridges Conference and has since been on display in Flandreau, South Dakota, at President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C., Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities, Winona State University, Macalester College, Augsburg College, and at libraries and historical societies all across Minnesota. The exhibit has been on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York since January 14 and will later move to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., this summer. Demand for the exhibit grew to a point where several additional copies were printed. One is located at the Nicollet County Historical Society’s Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter, while another is located in the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library on the Gustavus campus.
“The fifteen students in the 2012 January Term class who created the exhibit deserve enormous credit. In four weeks, they put together a dynamic, historically accurate, and compelling exhibit on a topic about which they knew very little when they entered the class,” Baer said. “Such a class project demonstrates two things: the vitality of the humanities for engaging audiences in crucial issues and the incredible opportunity that January Term, with its emphasis on experiential and experimental learning, represents. Now, because of their work, thousands of people have learned about the war which has so influenced Minnesota history.”
The exhibit won the National Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History in May of 2013. Baer, Leonard, and Gustavus student Victoria Clark ’14 were present to receive the award at the AASLH Conference in Birmingham in September 2013. Baer also received a Minnesota Campus Compact President’s Award for Civic Engagement in the Spring of 2013 for co-teaching the January Term course, organizing a corresponding lecture series on the War, and for her work on the traveling exhibit.
At the May 22 event at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Baer will be speaking jointly with Sandee Geshick, an Elder at the Lower Sioux Community, who worked with the 2012 January Term class that created the exhibit. The title of their talk is “Commemorating Controversy: A Dialogue” and will focus on the conflict between Dakota akicitas (warriors) and the U.S. military and immigrant settlers which left hundreds dead. Baer and Geshick will also bring to light the fact that on December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hung in Mankato by order of President Abraham Lincoln—an act that remains the largest mass execution in United States history.
“Few people in our New York audience will know much about the Dakota-U.S. War which tore Minnesota apart in 1862,” Baer said. “The challenge for Sandee and me is to explore with them the genocidal attitudes that led to the war and the consequences for the Dakota people which still affect all Minnesotans today. After our presentation, we will be circulating through the exhibit and talking with the audience one-on-one.”
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