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Dedra Birzer will pursue her interest in Laura Ingalls
Wilder in South Dakota.
Kalli Dal­rymple | Col­legian

Dedra Birzer, lec­turer of history at Hillsdale College, has accepted a position as director of research and pub­li­ca­tions for the South Dakota State His­torical Society as well as pub­lisher of its press. 

“I am very excited about this role and hope to create a vision that will bring South Dakota to people who don’t live there,” Birzer said.

She will con­tinue to live in Hillsdale but also spend about half her time in South Dakota.

Dedra Birzer’s husband, Pro­fessor of History Brad Birzer, expressed his excitement at his wife’s new position. 

“I’m extremely proud of her, she deserves this,” Brad Birzer said. “I think this is a great oppor­tunity, not just for her, but for the press as well. It’s already such a good press, but Dedra has such a great vision for its future.”

The SDSHS’s mission is to promote an under­standing and appre­ci­ation of South Dakota’s history. The orga­ni­zation main­tains the only aca­demic press in the state. 

The pub­lishing house fea­tures its Pioneer Girl Project, which involves researching and pub­lishing a com­pre­hensive auto­bi­og­raphy of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House On the Prairie” books. 

Birzer has taught courses on Laura Ingalls Wilder at Hillsdale College and has con­ducted extensive research on Wilder’s works. Four years ago, Pamela Smith Hill, the author of the first novel in the SDSHS’s “Pioneer Girl Project,” met Birzer and sat in on one of her Ingalls classes. 

“It was clear that Birzer knew how to inspire cre­ative thinking about Wilder and her world,” Smith Hill said. “I believe Birzer will broaden the society’s cre­ative reach and attract new voices and readers to the SDSHS.”

Birzer said her new position will cast a larger vision for the his­torical society and create a timeline for upcoming man­u­scripts and books. 

“That includes going and meeting with potential authors to have con­ver­sa­tions that end up becoming great books,” Birzer said.  

Birzer was rec­om­mended for the position by Gleaves Whitney, the exec­utive director of the Gerald R. Ford Pres­i­dential Foun­dation. 

“I have a friend who works in South Dakota history circles who asked if I knew anyone who would be suitable for this role,” Whitney said. “I told him that Birzer would be perfect for this position.”

Jon Lauck, board member of the SDSHS, said Birzer’s his­torical expertise makes her a great addition to the society. 

“Birzer’s great knowledge of Laura Ingalls Wilder makes her an out­standing choice for this position,” Lauck said. “I know she will develop and publish amazing books related to South Dakota, the Midwest, Great Plains, and the broader West.” 

Birzer said she is excited to bring new voices and readers to the pub­lishing house through her Hillsdale College con­nec­tions, specif­i­cally with Scot Bertram and John J. Miller of the Dow Jour­nalism Program. Birzer believes she will be able to help market the areas of South Dakota and the Great Plains that are under­rep­re­sented. 

According to Birzer, there are more books focused on the history and lifestyle of the western half of South Dakota than the eastern half because it appears to have a richer culture.  

“The eastern portion has more farming and ranching than the western side,” Birzer said. 

Birzer is still planning to teach a course in the Col­le­giate Scholars Program next semester.

“I am teaching Life of the Mind, which juniors have to take to try and figure out what their thesis projects are going to be,” Birzer explained. “I will have a lot of guest vis­itors and lec­turers talk about their own research whenever I’m out of town.” 

Brad Birzer is cur­rently taking a year-long sab­batical from teaching at Hillsdale. He explained how this new oppor­tunity will change the way their home life func­tions. 

“I’ll be taking care of a lot of things, being both dad and mom for our family,” Brad Birzer said. “Doing our jobs are no big deal, but us not doing them together is a little strange because we’ve been blessed to have been so close with one another.”

“All of the reading of man­u­scripts and getting in touch with current and past authors can be done from here,” Birzer said. “My work in South Dakota should be all people-focused, working with the staff.” 

Whitney’s rec­om­men­dation is in line with Birzer’s own per­sonal people-ori­ented mission. 

“She knows a lot of people sub­mitting man­u­scripts for pub­li­cation, has great pru­dence, and common sense,” Whitney said. “Add her ter­rific emo­tional intel­li­gence and knows how to nav­igate tricky sit­u­a­tions with people. People are always the most chal­lenging part of our work and Dedra is the perfect person for this role.”