VITA of Thomas D. (Tom) Isern


Professor of History & University Distinguished Professor
Director, Center for Heritage Renewal
PO Box 1390, Fargo ND 58107-1390

Telephone 701-799-2942 / Email


Fields of

History and folklore of the North American plains; history of agriculture. Scholarly research and writing deals mainly with agricultural life in the plains environment, including comparative work in grassland regions of other nations.


BA Bethany College, Lindsborg, KS, 1974. MA Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, 1975. PhD Oklahoma State University, 1977. Academic honors: National Merit Scholar; summa cum laude graduate of Bethany College; Phi Alpha Theta.


Following graduate education and two short-term appointments, served from 1979 to 1991 on faculty of Emporia State University, Emporia, KS--at various times Professor of History, Director of Research and Grants, and Chairman of the Division of Social Sciences.

Beginning 1992, commenced service at North Dakota State University, as Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences. In 1995 relinquished the deanship and became Professor of History.

Honors &

Grants and fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, the Beveridge Fund of the American Historical Association, the Kansas Committee for the Humanities, the Canadian Embassy, the Bush Foundation, the North Dakota Humanities Council, the North Dakota Department of Transportation, the State Historical Society of North Dakota, the National Park Service, and the National Endowment for the Humanities

Office-holder in Western Social Science Association, Agricultural History Society, Western History Association, and other scholarly associations

Roe R. Cross Distinguished Professor, 1987-88, Emporia State University

Senior Fulbright Scholar, Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand, 1991

Phi Alpha Theta Book Award, best subsequent book, for Bull Threshers and Bindlestiffs, 1991

Peltier Award for Innovative Teaching, North Dakota State University, 1999

Fargo Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Professor, NDSU, 2000-01

Dale Hogoboom Presidential Professor, NDSU, 2007-09

University Distinguished Professor, NDSU, 2007-


Custom Combining on the Great Plains: A History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981.

(With Jim Hoy) Plains Folk: A Commonplace of the Great Plains. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

(With Raymond Wilson) Kansas Land. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 1988.

Bull Threshers and Bindlestiffs: Harvesting and Threshing on the North American Plains. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990.

(With Jim Hoy) Plains Folk II: The Romance of the Landscape. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Dakota Circle: Excursions on the True Plains. Fargo: Institute for Regional Studies, 2000.

Some forty articles in historical and literary journals. Recent ones include: "The Comedy of the Commons, or, My Life on the Post-Colonial Plains," South Dakota History 33 (Spring 2003): 64-79; "The Matador Pasture: A Pastoral Vision for Prairie Life," Prairie Forum 29 (Spring 2004): 117-128; (with Tricia Velure Nissen) "How to Read a Farm: Stories from the Material Culture of Bowman County, North Dakota," Heritage of the Great Plains 38 (Fall-Winter 2005): 22-39; "Confessions of an Agrarian Conservative," South Dakota History 36 (Summer 2006): 218-23; "A Good Servant but a Tyrannous Master: Gorse in New Zealand," Social Science Journal 44 (Spring 2007): 179-86; (with Jessica Clark) "Germans from Russia in Saskatchewan: An Oral History," American Review of Canadian Studies 40 (March 2010): 71-85; “Toward a Greater Great Plains: Remarks on Publication of The Plains Political Tradition,” South Dakota History 45 (Fall 2016): 258-66; “Agency, Complexity, Memory: A Scholarship for Western Plains,” Social Science Journal 51 (March 2014): 1-5.

Presenter of papers at more than sixty professional meetings, including the Western History Association, the Western Social Science Association, the Canadian Historical Association, the International Council for Canadian Studies, the New Zealand Historical Association, and the Agricultural History Society. 2009 keynote presenter, New Zealand Historical Association.

About a hundred published reviews in scholarly journals; articles in a variety of popular and agricultural magazines; and (since 1983, with Jim Hoy), the weekly syndicated newspaper and radio feature, Plains Folk.

Public lectures—hundreds, in a variety of forums ranging from full university convocations to afternoon study clubs; mostly historical societies, educational organizations, and agricultural associations.


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