A new documentary film, titled “North Dakota Goes to War,” is the story of the 1st North Dakota Infantry Volunteers, men who fought in the Philippines in 1898-1899 during the Spanish-American War. The film, a production of the Fargo History Project, was premiered on Dec. 10, 2018 at the Fargo Theater to a public audience.
The film was a product of Angela Smith’s Digital History class in the fall of 2018. Smith is an associate professor of history and NDSU public history director.
Watch the film online here.
The research was facilitated by doctoral candidate Carole Butcher, who is writing her dissertation about the soldiers and their role in the war. “Those ‘citizen soldiers’ quite literally set aside their plowshares to pick up weapons and come to the defense of their country,” Butcher said.
When the war was over, the men needed help to come home after they didn’t receive the assistance they expected from the government. A grassroots response in North Dakota took up the cause to arrange transportation for the soldiers.
“The people at home saw something they thought was wrong — the Army not returning their boys to North Dakota,” Butcher said. “They didn’t wait for the Army to fix it. They didn’t wait for the governor or mayors or state legislature to fix it. They formulated a plan, and they carried the plan out successfully. I think it embodies the North Dakota spirit.”
The film makes use of diaries, letters, scrapbooks and newspaper accounts. During Butcher’s research, she came across pictures that she had never seen in any publication about the war. “That reinforced how little people know about this conflict,” she said.
Smith worked with filmmaker/musician Stephen Beckermann during the film’s production process. The students in the class conducted research, worked to create the narrative and gathered images to tell the story.
“The project has given me a much greater sense of pride in my work. Everyone in the class has been working their hardest to make sure the project comes out successful. It is very remarkable to see so many people motivated to tell an important story from 120 years ago,” said Max Sabin, a student from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who is majoring in English and minoring in history.
“The documentary allows the public to gain knowledge about the often forgotten Spanish-American War and how local people and places from the past were involved in the war,” said anthropology graduate student Kaitlynn Anderson, who is from Greensboro, North Carolina. “Since working on this project, I have learned several skills, such as research, critical thinking and film production. These skills can be implemented into real-world situations for research and jobs in the future.