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.”