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History Professor's New Book Explores Sense of Place in the Northern Grasslands

Molly Rozum headshot Molly Rozum, an associate professor and Ronald R. Nelson Chair of Great Plains and South Dakota History at the University of South Dakota, new book explores the lives of the children of the first settler colonials of North America's northern grasslands.

VERMILLION, S.D. – In researching her new book, “Grasslands Grown: Creating Place on the U.S. Northern Plaines and Canadian Prairies,” Molly Rozum, Ph.D., studied the lives of the children of the first settler colonials of North America’s northern grasslands, which includes all or part of modern-day South Dakota, North Dakota, Alberta, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“The book explores the cultural products—such as novels, histories, memoirs, poetry, agricultural seeds, scientific reports, paintings and ideas of modern conservation—produced by the children of the first settler colonials, who arrived in the space in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,” said Rozum, an associate professor and Ronald R. Nelson Chair of Great Plains and South Dakota History at the University of South Dakota.

An environmental, cultural and regional historian, Rozum’s research revealed that agriculture transformed North America’s northern grasslands during the lifetimes of settler society’s first generations.

“Settler society children grew up immersing themselves in the environment, often accompanied by or pursuing animals and forming play out of rivers, woods, rocks, trees and native grasslands habitat,” she said. “They also embraced the agricultural fields and crops transforming the grasslands ecology.”

These first generations had direct experiences with the native grassland habitat, even as they transformed the land to agricultural uses. “By the middle of the twentieth century, this generation referred to prairies and plains without regard to the amount or even presence of native grasslands habitat within the total mix of plant species,” Rozum said. After World War II, modern agricultural practices changed that sense of place felt by succeeding generations.

Rozum found a few surprising discoveries that are detailed in “Grasslands Grown.” “What surprised me was how entwined Canada and the U.S. were in their efforts to bring national and European settlers into the Northern Grasslands space, how much the initial settler colonial generation moved back and forth across the border, and how much the children of settlers communicated across the international boundary on issues related to the grasslands environment and their experiences growing up in it,” she said. Another revelation: settlers and the U.S. population in general referred to the Dakota Territory and Minnesota as the “New Northwest” for much of its early history.

“Grasslands Grown” is published by two academic presses, the University of Nebraska Press (purchasers may use code 6AS21 to save 40%) and the University of Manitoba Press, the latter of which is hosting a virtual book launch on Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m.

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