May 30, 2021: Thomas D. Isern - Pacing Dakota

Updated: Sep 22


Thomas D. (Tom) Isern is Professor of History & University Distinguished Professor, North Dakota State University. His academic specialty is the history and folklore of the Great Plains of North America, his research and teaching comprising both the American plains and the Canadian prairies. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Dakota Circle: Excursions on the True Plains, published by the Institute for Regional Studies (forerunner of North Dakota State University Press), and Pacing Dakota, Published by NDSU Press. Isern is best known across the northern plains as the author of Plains Folk, the radio feature he reads weekly to a statewide audience on Prairie Public. A native of western Kansas, he holds a BA degree from Bethany College as well as MA and PhD degrees from Oklahoma State University. Prior to coming to NDSU in 1992, he served eleven years on the faculty of Emporia State University, Kansas. Isern is married to historian and editor in chief Suzzanne Kelley. They happily boast of four adult children and eight grandchildren and shamelessly dote upon a beagle and a Labrador retriever. Together, too, they share offshore research interests in New Zealand and Australia.



It might have been called My Life on the Plains, but that title was taken. Pacing Dakotacame together as a collection of sketches, drawing on radio scripts written and read weekly on statewide public radio (Prairie Public) under the title, Plains Folk. Somewhere in the process, as the author graduated from writing transitions to adding reflections, looking back on forty years as a working historian and regional author, the work crossed the line into the domain of memoir. The narrative transitions from the close confines of historical archives into the prairie landscapes of the northern plains. It speaks with the mingled voices of scholarly historian, outdoor sportsman, culinary enthusiast, lifelong Lutheran, and prairie farmboy. The author prowls prairie churches, finds forgotten artifacts, and gathers cherished stories from Williston to Wahpeton and points beyond. He situates his encounters along the way into the canon of literary and historical writing on the prairies. In the end, he speaks for a generation born and raised on the Great Plains of North America and committed to making a good life in this place. 

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