Teaching about TeddyGRAND FORKS — The library at Grand Forks Red River High School is filled with tributes to President Theodore Roosevelt: teddy bears crowd a display case, a portrait of Roosevelt in Western duds hangs near the entrance and nearly life-size paper mache models of Roosevelt and his favorite horse, Bleistein, stand in one corner.
By: Lisa Gulya , The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — The library at Grand Forks Red River High School is filled with tributes to President Theodore Roosevelt: teddy bears crowd a display case, a portrait of Roosevelt in Western duds hangs near the entrance and nearly life-size paper mache models of Roosevelt and his favorite horse, Bleistein, stand in one corner.
Wednesday, humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson visited the library in a tribute of his own, speaking as Roosevelt to dedicate a satellite kiosk that soon will give students access to thousands of writings in the president’s own hand.
In his work as the Theodore Roosevelt Center scholar at Dickinson State University, Jenkinson has absorbed so many details about Roosevelt’s life that he plays the president with ease. Dressed in a top hat, a pince-nez and a pasted-on mustache, Jenkinson entertained a crowd of about 50 people with stories about Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota in the late 1800s.
When Roosevelt arrived in North Dakota in 1883, Jenkinson explained, his Western costume earned him the label of “dude” from the local cowboys. Boasting a designer buckskin suit, monogrammed silver spurs and a knife hand carved by Tiffany’s, Roosevelt appeared to the locals as an Easterner who just wanted to vacation on a Western ranch.
But Roosevelt did more than vacation, as Jenkinson explained in character. Living in North Dakota was “essential to my sense of my own greatness,” he said. “I could not have been the 26th president of the United States had it not been for the time I spent here.”
During his presidency, 1901-1909, Roosevelt did much to take pride in, Jenkinson said. Not only was he “the readingest president and the writingest president,” consuming a book a day and writing 40 of his own, Roosevelt was also the first president to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
The satellite kiosk celebrates Roosevelt’s role in that historical period by linking students to the Theodore Roosevelt Center’s website where they can read about his accomplishments. The center has a few dozen documents by and about Roosevelt currently online; by October, thousands of documents will be available, said Sharon Kilzer, project manager. Digitizing the thousands of documents is a collaborative project of the Theodore Roosevelt Center and the Library of Congress. Harvard University and six national parks also house original Roosevelt documents.
DSU President Dr. Richard McCallum stressed the ease with which students will be able to read Roosevelt’s writings, compared to the lengths scholars have had to go to in the past to see original documents.
“You would hop a plane,” McCallum said. “You would rent a motel in Washington, D.C., or Boston, and then you would go through the protocols of getting access to the materials in the archives. You would get access to the materials one tray at a time.
“Now your students are not going to have to go to the archives of the Library of Congress. They’re going to be able to come to this kiosk and click and search and gather information for the projects that they’re developing.”
The collections of writings by and about Roosevelt offer a view of the president’s thoughts, both public and intimate. In Roosevelt’s journal, an “X” is inked across Feb. 14, 1884. “The light has gone out of my life” was Roosevelt’s terse appraisal of the Valentine’s Day both his mother and his wife died. Roosevelt’s wife, Alice, was 22.
Red River’s kiosk is the first in eastern North Dakota. The other four kiosks are located at DSU’s Stoxen Library; Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora; Bowman Regional Public Library; and Bismarck State College Library.
The Red River kiosk is also the first in a public school. Librarian Kathy Hill requested a kiosk for Red River after learning about the Theodore Roosevelt digitization project at the 2009 North Dakota Library Association conference in Dickinson. Hill said students in Paul Zettler’s North Dakota studies class will use the kiosk. She predicts students studying U.S. history will use the kiosk, too.
McCallum hopes students will appreciate the access they will have to Roosevelt’s world.
“We certainly admire and respect the dedication you have to Roosevelt, and we hope that in some way the digital library we are orchestrating will flow into this kiosk and become a rich enhancement to the programming you have,” McCallum said.
The Theodore Roosevelt Center’s Roosevelt document collection is available online at www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Documents.asp.
Gulya is a reporter for
the Grand Forks Herald,
which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.