WILLISTON Williston State College assistant history professor Richard Stenberg plans to give his World War I history class a local connection this semester.
Back in 1931, the state appropriated funds to create biographies for every living North Dakotan who had fought in what was then called "The Great War," Stenberg said. The short bios were done for people living in the state and for those who had moved out of state. One set of the biographies is in the library at Williston State College, a goldmine for researchers.
"Did you have a relative in the Great War?" Stenberg asks his students and sends them to the library to do genealogical research and to seek out tidbits of information about the long gone veterans of the war that began nearly a century ago.
The last remaining American World War I veteran, Frank Buckles of West Virginia, died last February. More than 420,000 Americans suffered casualties in the war, with 116,000 losing their lives. Millions of British, French and Germans died during the war.
"We'll discuss the American involvement in the war, looking especially close at the elements of the North Dakota Guard companies that served, looking at a global event with a local angle," Stenberg said. "A large number of North Dakotans served in the war. Personally, I had seven great-uncles who served."
The biographies created in 1931 are great documentation for North Dakotans who served in World War I, said Stenberg, who said the war defined the 20th century and was the reason for World War II. The United States abandoned its long established policy of neutrality as far as Europe was concerned to enter into World War I. American manpower decided the outcome of the war, which ended in 1918.
Stenberg said he would also like his students to research local news coverage from the period, but that isn't possible because the local newspaper doesn't have a morgue where students can read back issues and the library also doesn't have an easily accessible archive. Instead, Stenberg will send his students online to the U.S. Library of Congress Web site, where they can read large newspapers from World War I.
"I love using newspapers as a method of research," Stenberg said. "They're a snapshot of that period."
His students will be assigned to look up their own birthday in 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918, the years of the Great War, and research what was written about in a large newspaper on those dates. The Library of Congress site enables students to import and download the newspapers in PDF format.
Stenberg said he has taught the class on World War I in the past but hasn't been able to offer it for the past few years. It is being offered as a special topic at Williston State College for the spring semester, but he'd like to make it a regular class offering, particularly as the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I approaches.
Stenberg said he also takes a local angle with a popular class on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Students from that class have gone on field trips to the areas explored by Lewis and Clark.
The class will meet Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. on the Williston State College campus. Classes start Jan. 10 but Stenberg said students can continue to register for the class through Jan. 13.