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Symposium Held On The Shaping Of The Great Plains

Homestead National Monument of America

National Park News

How important was the year 1862 to the National Park Service, the United States, and the World?

Last month Homestead National Monument of America and the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) co-sponsored an academic symposium entitled “1862-2012: The Making of the Great Plains.” The symposium was held during the last week of March on the campus of UNL and concluded at Homestead National Monument. 

The symposium examined the impacts of four pieces of legislation and one event that took place in 1862 that would come to shape the Great Plains and define our nation – the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railway Act, the Morrill Act, the creation of the Department of Agriculture, and the Dakota War all had significant and enduring effects on the expansion and development of the United States. 

Combined, these events, all commemorating their sesquicentennials, provided the thematic background to a most successful symposium. The event was well attended; over 300 people were on hand to listen to ten featured speakers and 23 concurrent sessions that took place over three days and in four venues. 

In addition, CSPAN and Nebraska Education Telecommunications were on hand to film select presentations that will be airing soon on each network.  Both Homestead National Monument and UNL were able to showcase their amazing facilities while generating interest and exposure to the important sesquicentennial commemoration efforts. 

How will the symposium impact the National Park Service?  Nearly 10% of all National Park Service sites have a direct tie to the Homestead Act, and countless more across the country were impacted by the development of railroads.  The Homestead Act alone gave away 270 million acres of land in the United States.  The Dakota War saw a rapid decline in American Indian-White relations on the Great Plains.  The war shattered any hope of cooperative relations, with consequences that endure nationwide even today. And, lastly, the Morrill Act afforded unprecedented access to higher education through the land grant college system.  Thousands of our own Park Service employees graduated from one of the 106 land grant colleges that were built with the funds raised from provisions under the Morrill Act.  Today all 50 states, six territories, and the District of Columbia have a Land Grant institution. 

Most importantly, though, the symposium generated considerable amounts of new research that will enrich the historical narrative of the expansion and development of the United States. 

Featured Speakers included Dr. Elliott West from the University of Arkansas, Dr. Richard White from Stanford University, Dr. Sarah Carter from the University of Alberta, Dr. William Thomas from the University of Nebraska, Dr. Daniel Wildcat from Haskell Indian Nations University, Dr. David Wishart from the University of Nebraska, Dr. Martin Jischke former President at Purdue University, Dr. Myron Gutmann from the University of Michigan, Dr. Donald Worster from Kansas University, and Time Magazine editor David Von Drehle.


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