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Professor Gwen Westerman Translating 19th-Century Letters of Dakota

Project funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant involves Dakota letters from 1838-1878.

Minnesota State University, Mankato Media Relations Office News Release, 2-2-2016

Mankato, Minn. – Minnesota State University, Mankato Professor of English Gwen Westerman has received a two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to translate and create a critical edition of letters written by Dakota people living in Minnesota in the mid-19th century.

Funding for the $194,774 grant began in January for Westerman’s project, titled “This Is Who We Are: Letters of the Dakota, 1838-1878.”

“The time period selected for this project encompasses the years of most drastic change for Dakota people—treaty negotiations, land loss, war, imprisonment, exile, and the beginnings of recovery,” said Westerman. “Our project goal is to translate 200 letters and then select approximately 75 of those to include in a book to be submitted for publication in 2017.

“These letters provide insights into the daily lives of prominent and ordinary Dakota people, their opinions about their relationships with the federal government, and their attempts to negotiate the rapid changes brought on by farming, Christianity and settlers who overran their lands.

“The selected letters will be supported by historical and contextual essays, as well as autobiographical sketches and photos of the letter writers.

The project is now underway with the selection, transcription, and translation phase. We are very excited to get started and are extremely gratified that the National Endowment for the Humanities has recognized the merit of this work by supporting our project with this grant.”

Westerman said the grant for the Dakota letters project is the latest in a series of accomplishments that shows Minnesota State Mankato’s developing prominence as a leader in supporting Dakota language and culture in the region. According to Westerman, those accomplishments include:

  • Dakota language was offered on the Minnesota State Mankato campus for the very first time this past fall as a direct result of the discussions the University had with the four Dakota communities about their priorities for education.
  • An ongoing collaboration with the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota has led to the inclusion of Dakota language and content throughout the museum, making it a model for place-based museum design.
  • A cultural history book published in 2012 by Bruce M. White and Westerman titled “Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota,” received a 2013 Minnesota Book Award, a national 2013 Leadership in History award and the 2014 Hognander Minnesota history award. “Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota” joins “The History of the Santee Sioux” (1986) by Minnesota State Mankato English professor emeritus Roy Meyer as the top two sources for Dakota history.

Westerman’s project was one of 212 humanities projects nationally to receive National Endowment for the Humanities funding and one of eight in Minnesota, according to a July press release.

For more information, please contact Gwen Westerman at Minnesota State Mankato by phone at 507-389-5508 or by email at

The National Endowment for the Humanities, according to its website, is an independent federal agency created in 1965, and is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. It supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.

Minnesota State Mankato's Department of English is part of the University's College of Arts and Humanities.

Minnesota State Mankato, a comprehensive university with 15,193 students, is part of the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system, which comprises 31 state institutions.

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