The Dakota History Conference, as it was known when it began at Dakota State University in 1969, is the oldest and largest annual conference focused specifically on South Dakota and the Northern Plains region. Dr. Ernest Teagarden, a business professor at Dakota State, was the founding director. Professor Herbert Blakely, who taught history at Dakota State, directed the conference from 1975 through 1989. When the academic mission of Dakota State changed in 1989, Augustana's Center for Western Studies offered to continue the conference in Sioux Falls. The Center’s regional authors’ autograph party, begun in 1988, became a feature of the conference in 1990.
During the 28 years it has been a program of the Center for Western Studies — with grant assistance from the South Dakota Humanities Council for most of those years — the conference has grown into a national gathering, on average, of 70-80 presenters from 15-20 states. As it seeks to encourage research and debate on issues affecting residents and institutions of the Northern Plains, the conference has continued the tradition of welcoming both professional and amateur scholars — and especially students. We have been fortunate over the years to have been assisted by the staff of Mikkelsen Library, notably Media Services, and the library has generously shared its building.
A tradition begun in 1973, the Center is proud to continue presenting the annual Dakota Conference Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of South Dakota and the Northern Plains. Eight additional awards, totaling $900, are given each year to recognize papers delivered at the most recent conference. Two are named in honor of participants who perished in a hotel fire in 1980 while attending the conference in Madison, South Dakota: Dr. Cedric Cummins, a history professor at the University of South Dakota, and Richard Cropp, an amateur historian and artist from Mitchell, South Dakota. Other awards honor Arthur I. Johnson, an amateur historian, and his wife, Willmeta, and Herbert Blakely and Ernest Teagarden. The Carol Mashek Award in Women’s History was added in 2009 and the Ardyce Samp Award, honoring long-time presenters, in 2011.