SDSU professor explores Dakota politics in Prairie Republic

Liz Bos

Liz Bos

Jon Lauck wears a lot of hats.

A native of rural Madison, Lauck graduated from SDSU in 1993 with degrees in history and political science. He was a columnist for The Collegian from 1990-93. After graduating from SDSU, Lauck then attended graduate school at the University of Iowa for a master’s degree in history.

Lauck then taught history classes at SDSU from 2003-2005, including a History of South Dakota class that inspired him to write his recently-released book, Prairie Republic: The Political Culture of Dakota Territory.

“This is their story; this is the reason we are the way we are; this is their defining moment,” Lauck said.

Although Lauck said he didn’t think he’d be a writer when he was younger, he’d always liked history. Then, when he got to graduate school, he said people all over were writing books, which gave him the idea to have his dissertation published as a book. His published works include Daschle vs. Thune: Anatomy of a High-Plains Senate Race and American Agriculture and the Problem of Monopoly.

“I think it could be said that it’s getting easier to do research because of the Internet,” Lauck said. “This made it much easier for people not located near big research centers to do research.”

Lauck is also a lawyer and currently serves as senior adviser to Sen. John Thune. He received his law degree from the University of Minnesota in 2000.

“I’m just another SDSU grad out there active in the world,” Lauck said.

Lauck said he was inspired to write Prairie Republic after he began doing research on South Dakota for the South Dakota history class he was supposed to teach. Unfortunately, he was only able to find one book about South Dakota history, and suspected even that one was flawed.

“I thought, “We really need to revise that book,'” Lauck said. “It was definitely time for a new book on Dakota Territory.”

A panel on the book was held during the 42nd Annual Dakota Conference on the Northern Plains at Augustana College in Sioux Falls April 24. Present at the panel were, among others, retired SDSU history professor John E. Miller and Augie history professor Michael Mullin.

“(Lauck) was one of our star graduates, for sure,” Miller said. Miller was LauProxy-Connection: keep-aliveCache-Control: max-age=0

‘s adviser during his undergrad career.

According to Miller, the book focuses on South Dakota’s political culture during the decade before statehood in the 1880s. To research the book, Lauck said he spent a lot of time at the State Historical Society in Pierre, Augustana College, the North Dakota state archives in Bismarck and even the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

“It’s an extremely deeply-researched book,” Miller said. “…in the broadest sense, this book is full of ideas and concepts and food for thought.”

Mullin said he was hopeful that the book would get good reviews.

“It’s the first major work on that period in 50 years,” Mullin said. “I think scholars will be happy to have another vision of the history of South Dakota.”

“He’s a revisionist,” Miller said. “He’s revising our understanding of the past.”

Lauck’s future plans include writing more books, including a history of the United States from 2000-2010, tentatively titled “The “00s.”

“It’s been a fascinating decade,” Lauck said.