UND Professor Writes the History of North Dakota
Grand Forks, N.D.
September 23, 1966
A new book, “History of North Dakota,” has just been released by the University of Nebraska Press. University of North Dakota professor Elwyn B. Robinson spent twenty years researching and writing this complete history which has received very favorable reviews.
The book’s nearly 600 pages of text do more than chronicle the state’s past; they place North Dakota’s story in the context of six major themes. First, Robinson states that remoteness—the great distance to centers of finance, industry, and political decision making—has played a key role in the slow growth of manufacturing in the state. This has forced North Dakota to rely mostly on agriculture.
His second theme is dependence. As a producer of new materials, he argues, North Dakota has been dependent upon outsiders for capital and for economic development. The railroads, the grain traders, and bankers, all located in the Twin Cities, have had powerful control over the state’s political and economic development. This has made North Dakota a colonial hinterland, dependent largely upon what happens in the Twin Cities.
Robinson’s third theme is radicalism. Because North Dakota has been in a colonial status, people have periodically rebelled against that status and tried to gain control of their own destiny. He cites the Nonpartisan League with its program of state ownership as a prime example.
Economic disadvantage is the fourth theme. Robinson concludes that “to a considerable extent the history of the state is the history of hard times.” The annual incomes of North Dakota’s people have, with two exceptions, lagged behind national averages.
The UND professor coined the term, the “Too-Much Mistake,” to describe his fifth theme. “This is my name,” Robinson writes, “for too many farms, too many miles of railroads, too many towns, banks, schools, colleges, churches, and governmental institutions, and more people than opportunities.” This has had a negative impact on the state’s development.
His sixth theme, adjustment, has two meanings. First, all people who came to the prairie and plains of North Dakota had to adjust to a new environment and had to change the way they used to live in their former locations. Second, adjustment means addressing the problems of the “Too-Much Mistake,” through, in his words, “the painful cutting back of the oversupply of the Too-Much Mistake and the slow forging of more suitable ways of living in a sub-humid grassland.”
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.