ROE R. Cross Distinguished Professor

  • Thomas D. Isern
  • Thomas D. Isern

  • 1987 - Thomas D. Isern

  • Dr. Thomas D. Isern is just a plains-talking guy.

    He grew up on a wheat farm in western Kansas, and has lived on the plains of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Saskatchewan, and North Dakota all his life. He has studied the grasslands of New Zealand and Australia, too.

    Occasionally he would come off the plains for some education. Isern has a bachelor’s from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., and his master’s and Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University.

    Isern taught at Emporia State University for 11 years and now is a distinguished professor of history at North Dakota State University.

    He is nationally recognized as an expert on Great Plains history and folklore. Isern has received numerous grants to study various historical topics on Kansas and the Great Plains. He is perhaps best known as the author of the book Custom Combining on the Great Plains and for his talents as a folksinger. Isern co-authors Plains Folk, a regular column syndicated to several newspapers in the Great Plains Region.

    In 1991, as a Fulbright Scholar, Isern studied the agricultural history of the tussock grasslands of New Zealand, returning again five years later to do more work in the country, and still today he returns to continue the research.

    Isern was active with the Kansas Committee for the Humanities and was on the board of editors for the University Press of Kansas and executive board of the Kansas History Teachers Association.

    
“A university is supposed to be a place where people who want to be scholars study with people who are scholars. That means a student has to bring only the desire to learn, but the teacher has to bring both the desire to teach and the scholarly qualifications to do so, and in my field, that means original research and writing. If, in a university, you can’t take students to the frontier of knowledge, then you’re cheating them.”