Iowa History Center expands with new office space

by Rachel Peterson, perspectives editor

On the bottom floor of Mary Berry sits a gem of Simpson College. The Iowa History Center is not just a place to learn about the Hawkeye State. The Center publishes books, gives out one of the largest scholarships on campus to incoming students and hosts renowned speakers.

The Iowa History Center, founded in 2006, is run by Bill Friedricks, professor of history. Up until this summer, it never had a dedicated office space.

Friedricks said they were given Mary Berry room 111, but had to raise funds for renovations.

“We got a grant with Warren County Philanthropic Partnership. We got two sizeable grants from private donors. It took quite a long time, and we finally completed the offices over the summer,” he said.

Friedricks founded the center because he realized Iowa students were missing out on a key component of history—Iowa history.

“Most Iowa students get a small unit of 3 or 4 weeks of Iowa history and that’s it,” he said. “I started teaching Iowa history, and then we set up the center to elevate and promote Iowa history to Simpson students, certainly, and also the public.”

Eight years later, the center is responsible for publishing ten books, providing funds for grade school students to go on field trips and hosting eight seasons of an Iowa history speakers series at Simpson.

Perhaps the most memorable Iowa History Center accolade is bringing the American Gothic statues to campus.

The center started a book series with the University of Iowa Press called Iowa and the Midwest Experience. The first book was published in 2009.

“This is good for the state in general. People have an outlet, and we publish quality information,” Friedricks said.

For students interested in Iowa history, the center is a resource for internships and learning opportunities.

Up to five scholarships are given to incoming students. They are expected to work in the center.

“Last year they worked on an oral history project. This year, I think we are getting a set of antique Iowa maps. The students will work to get background on the maps and write a history,” Friedricks said. “Then we will put them on exhibit around the state.”

Friedricks also helps place students in internship positions. These opportunities range from working at the Des Moines Metro Opera and writing a history of the building to helping the Greater Des Moines Partnership write a history of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

“They see the difference of doing history in a public setting as opposed to doing it in a college or academic setting,” Friedricks said.

In addition to bringing Iowa history to the collegiate level, Friedricks had hopes of putting it into elementary curriculums when the center was created.

“Our original thought was we could work with state and local officials to encourage teachers to work Iowa history into the curriculum. The Iowa core doesn’t allow much, however,” Friedricks said.

Instead, the center implemented a grant program for teachers to apply for funding to take students on field trips centered on Iowa history.

“We figured the way to help was to encourage schools to get out and take advantage of these venues, but since they can’t afford them because funding for field trips has been cut back, we provide some funding for them to go. It’s been a very successful program,” he said.

The center has sent 4500 students on field trips since the start of the program.

Friedricks said he is proud of the center’s success and wants students to take advantage of the center.

“It connects you to your own past,” he said. “We’re one of the few colleges that offer Iowa history.”

The Iowa History Center’s next event is on Nov. 11 in Hubbell Hall. Author Colin Woodard will be speaking about his book, American Nations.