UND Professor Writes the History of North Dakota

Grand Forks, N.D.
September 23, 1966

A new book, “History of North Dakota,” has just been released by the University of Nebraska Press. University of North Dakota professor Elwyn B. Robinson spent twenty years researching and writing this complete history which has received very favorable reviews.

The book’s nearly 600 pages of text do more than chronicle the state’s past; they place North Dakota’s story in the context of six major themes. First, Robinson states that remoteness—the great distance to centers of finance, industry, and political decision making—has played a key role in the slow growth of manufacturing in the state. This has forced North Dakota to rely mostly on agriculture.

His second theme is dependence. As a producer of new materials, he argues, North Dakota has been dependent upon outsiders for capital and for economic development. The railroads, the grain traders, and bankers, all located in the Twin Cities, have had powerful control over the state’s political and economic development. This has made North Dakota a colonial hinterland, dependent largely upon what happens in the Twin Cities.

Robinson’s third theme is radicalism. Because North Dakota has been in a colonial status, people have periodically rebelled against that status and tried to gain control of their own destiny. He cites the Nonpartisan League with its program of state ownership as a prime example.

Economic disadvantage is the fourth theme. Robinson concludes that “to a considerable extent the history of the state is the history of hard times.” The annual incomes of North Dakota’s people have, with two exceptions, lagged behind national averages.

The UND professor coined the term, the “Too-Much Mistake,” to describe his fifth theme. “This is my name,” Robinson writes, “for too many farms, too many miles of railroads, too many towns, banks, schools, colleges, churches, and governmental institutions, and more people than opportunities.” This has had a negative impact on the state’s development.

His sixth theme, adjustment, has two meanings. First, all people who came to the prairie and plains of North Dakota had to adjust to a new environment and had to change the way they used to live in their former locations. Second, adjustment means addressing the problems of the “Too-Much Mistake,” through, in his words, “the painful cutting back of the oversupply of the Too-Much Mistake and the slow forging of more suitable ways of living in a sub-humid grassland.”

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level

3-4, 8

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change

Related Links

“The Themes of North Dakota History” by Elwyn B. Robinson

Centennial Anthology of North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains (Winter 1959), pp. 1-8.

Biography of Robinson

The Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections at the University of North Dakota.