Friday Quick Hits and Varia

Some quick thoughts for the weekend:

  • More Merrifield Moving: Gordon Iseminger made his feelings known regarding the Department of History’s impending move from Merrifield Hall on the front page of the Grand Forks Herald.  His rear guard actions captured the significance of the event well and ensured that the campus and the community realized that the Department’s departure from its long time home in Merrifield will be a loss.  He evoked the spirit of the building and of Robinson and Libby:

“Designed by famed architect Joseph Bell DeRemer, Merrifield Hall was built in 1929 and immediately elevated the aesthetics of the young campus, where earlier construction had been more utilitarian. Windows have been updated, and hallway ceilings were lowered to accommodate new heating and cooling systems, but there have been no additions to alter its external elegance.

It has a worn, familiar feel inside, where the terrazzo floors are original and the staircases curve into those sun-dappled window seats.

Down the hall from the core cluster of history faculty offices, one classroom is outfitted with maps and framed portraits of former history department leaders, including Elwyn Robinson, author of the 1966 “History of North Dakota,” and Orin G. Libby, often called “the father of North Dakota history.”

“It was in this building that Robinson and Libby made their careers,” Iseminger said, and that tradition — that history — should matter to the larger university community.”

As the Departmental Historian, I was a bit surprised to see Iseminger’s assertion that Libby “made his career” in Merrifield.  Libby was hired in 1902 and published his dissertation, by far his most significant piece of scholarship some 5 years earlier.  In 1914, Libby arranged to hold the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (the predecessor to the Organization of American Historians) on campus, and this was surely his finest hour.  Libby’s high profile battles with President Kane in the 1920s had tarnished his reputation on campus and weakened the position of the department as Kane sought to undermine Libby’s power on campus by dividing the department into separate departments of European and American History.  Despite these battles, he nevertheless had the privilege of new offices in Merrifield Hall where he would work until his retirement in 1945.  While he worked hard during his final 15 years on campus to maintain North Dakota Historical Society during the darkest years of the depression, his scholarly output waned and even his teaching fell behind the times.  Libby’s career was made before he came to Merrifield Hall and continued despite the move.  This gives our department hope.

Cheer on the Phils this weekend. 

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