Ag Museum brings SD history to life

Erin Beck

Walking into the SDSU Agricultural Heritage Museum is like walking back in time. Artifacts from a genuine claim shanty from 1882, a larger-than-life threshing machine, all the way to an old-fashioned pay phone all promise there is something to catch everyone’s interest.

The Ag Museum is an integral part of the campus. Museum curator Carrie Van Buren said the museum has been at SDSU since 1884. Under the direction of Hilton Briggs, the focus of the museum was shifted to agriculture.

The true heart and soul of the museum encompasses several aspects. The Ag Museum strives to collect, preserve and interpret the history of agriculture and rural life in South Dakota. The museum showcases that history, illustrating the changes that have taken place as technology has progressed.

“You’ve got a wonderful, wonderful history here in South Dakota,” Van Buren said.

According to curator Dawn Stephens, the museum is also trying to show where agriculture currently is and where it’s going in the future.

“You’ve got to look at where they started to see where they’re going. If you don’t know what your history is, you don’t know where you’re going,” Stephens said.

The museum takes a broader focus beyond history and interacts with the community, promoting education and learning through programs and sponsored events. Speakers, perfume making classes, gourd decorating and corn jewelry workshops are just some of the activities held at the Ag Museum.

“It’s looking at agriculture a little bit differently and seeing how agriculture permeates everything we do,” Van Buren said.

Stephens relates agriculture to a more personal level.

“If you eat, you’re dealing with agriculture. You’re eating what people are producing,” Stephens said.

Most of the displays and information in the archives at the museum have come from donations made throughout the years. Due to the limited amount of space in the building, many objects aren’t on display.

There are three main galleries in the museum. The east gallery focuses mainly on machinery and technology in farming. The middle gallery exhibits agriculture in general and transitions into the west gallery, which emphasizes rural life and connections with people.

“The people were what really made agriculture. The museum talks about the people and their importance and how they related to the actual growing of crops and marketing,” said Mac Harris, a former director of the Ag Museum.

Van Buren stressed the importance of history and the impact that it has for each individual.

“It’s important for people to remember their culture, and not just remember it, but know it and learn it and preserve it,” Van Buren said.

According to Van Buren, history is happening every day. The Ag Museum demonstrates the impact that daily life has had in history.

“History is alive. It doesn’t have to be the major events. It’s the daily ebb and flow of life,” Van Buren said.

Harris agrees that daily life greatly contributes to the foundation of the museum.

“The museum’s purpose has been to preserve and tell the story of agriculture in South Dakota and the Great Plains. That story is still important to tell,” Harris said.