In 2017, BHSU faculty and students undertook a unique project to honor and develop South Dakota’s national cemeteries as sites of public history through the National Cemetery Administration Veterans Legacy Program. Now, the group from BHSU is ready to share the results of this historic undertaking.
Kelly Kirk, instructor of history at BHSU and primary investigator for the Veterans Legacy Program at BHSU, will present “Veterans Legacies in the Black Hills” Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall 110. Kirk’s presentation is part of the Geek Speak lecture series at BHSU. All Geek Speaks are free and open to the public.
A diverse group of students—including American Indian studies, English, history, education, graphic designer, and marketing students—all worked as research assistants to write biographies, develop educational lesson plans, create walking tours of the cemeteries, and design the project website.
At the Geek Speak, Kirk will give the public a look inside this unique project, sharing the experience of undertaking such inter-personal research. Many students were able to deeply connect with their research by meeting with the surviving family members of the veteran they were writing about. Black Hills community members were actively engaged in the process, sharing oral histories, as well as collections of letters, pictures, and military records with student researchers.
In February 2017, Kirk, along with over 20 faculty and student workers, began the project of curating the biographies of veterans interred at the five national cemeteries in South Dakota: Black Hills National Cemetery, Ft. Meade National Cemetery, Hot Springs National Cemetery, Lakota Freedom Veterans Cemetery, and Rosebud Sioux Tribe Veterans Cemetery.
The National Cemetery Administration supplies support and resources for universities nationwide to undertake their own local research. The program at BHSU focuses on preserving the histories of national cemeteries in the Black Hills Region for future generations while honoring the legacy of our heroic veterans.
“The goal was to come up with ways to not only research these cemeteries, but also make that research readily accessible to the public,” Kirk says.
“It was an honor to be trusted with stories that were at once joyful and heart-wrenching,” said Erin Broberg, BHSU English major from Rapid City. “I took great care in retelling these stories, grateful for the opportunity to preserve this family’s personal history.”
The project allowed students to write creatively, delving into history and retelling the stories with as much accuracy and detail as possible.
“Each one of these veterans is very much a part of our history. They were not one-dimensional soldiers. The stories go beyond their time oversees,” said Kirk. “We ask, how did their experiences in the service change their life? What did they do after coming home? We want to connect that local, personal story to much larger world events.”
Kirk hopes the Geek Speak will encourage the public to engage with these new resources, both at the cemeteries and online. Walking tours with veteran biographies are now available at each cemetery. The project website contains a project summary, lesson plans for educators, and complete veteran biographies: https://bhveterans.org/
The Geek Speak lecture series, sponsored by the BHSU University Honors program, features academic discussion and topics not normally discussed in the traditional classroom. The goal of the weekly lectures is to expose students to diversity within the disciplines. All Geek Speak lectures are free and open to the public. The following on-campus Geek Speak presentations, which are held Thursdays at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall, room 110, are scheduled for this semester:
Nov. 16: “Searching for Riemann: A brief history and some recent insights into one of the most intriguing unsolved million-dollar problem in mathematics” by Dr. Parthasarathi Nag, professor of mathematics
Nov. 30: University Honors Capstone Defenses
Dec. 7: University Honors Capstone Defenses
To read short descriptions of each lecture topic, visit www.BHSU.edu/Honors
For more information, contact Dr. Courtney Huse-Wika, director of the University Honors Program and assistant professor of English, at 605-642-6918 or email Courtney.HuseWika@BHSU.edu.