Great Plains, Great Ideas: Paul A. Olson Seminars

The Paul A. Olson Seminars in Great Plains Studies offer an opportunity for interested scholars, students, and members of the community to come together to examine various topics related to the Great Plains. The seminars are free and open to the public. Audio for each lecture will be posted 2 to 3 days after the lecture. If you need an accommodation, please call 402-472-3964.

Spring 2017

Carolyn Finney

February 2, 3:30 p.m.:
"Radical Presence: Black Faces, White Spaces & Other Stories of Possibility"

Center for Great Plains Studies, 1155 Q St

Carolyn Finney, Professor in Geography at the University of Kentucky.

In her recently published book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors (UNC Press), Finney explores the complexities and contradictions of the African American environmental relationship. Drawing on “green” conversations with black people from around the country, Finney considers the power of resistance and resilience in the emergence of creative responses to environmental and social challenges in our cities and beyond. Using imagination and a little true grit, these individuals challenge us to see differently and do differently in our changing world.

Watch the lecture video.

Rebecca Buller

March 14, 3:30 p.m:
"Human Trafficking in the Great Plains"

Center for Great Plains Studies, 1155 Q St

Becky Buller, Geographer, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Many people—including some victims, survivors, service providers, and law officials—have recognized that human trafficking regularly takes place within the contemporary Great Plains.  Yet, for the most part, the general public is still largely unaware of the phenomenon.  This talk, with special emphasis on Nebraska, will briefly introduce the basics of human trafficking in the Great Plains, its impact on the region, and practical ways in which individuals can realize, recognize, and respond.

Download presentation slides (pdf)

John Hibbing

April 20, 6:30 p.m.:
"Could the People of the Great Plains Have Distinctive Character Traits?"

John Hibbing, Foundation Regent Professor, Political Science

Happy Raven, 122 N 11th St. (21+ event)

Is it possible that just by residing in the Great Plains, we have our own set of deep and distinct identities, values, philosophies, creeds, and personalities? Based on a recent journal article in Great Plains Research, John Hibbing explores how we might answer these questions and what it says about the Great Plains as a region. Hibbing studies how biological variations change the way people respond to politics and the environment. Hibbing is a Foundation Regent University Professor in Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This event is part of the University of Nebraska State Museum's Science Café Series, a casual, educational, and entertaining monthly series for adults (21+) exploring a variety of science and natural history topics. 

NU State Museum Member, UNL Student/Faculty/Staff (ID required): $10
Non-Member: $15
Ticket includes: Food plus one drink ticket.

Ticket sales end 10 a.m. day of program. Must be age 21+ to attend. Cash bar available.

Previous lectures

Contemporary Indigeneity: Spiritual Borderlands Juror Panel Discussion - Nov. 3, 2016

The jurors for this year’s iteration of the exhibition were selected for their knowledge of and connections to the contemporary Native American art community and include Netha Cloeter, Director of Education and Social Engagement, Plains Art Museum, Fargo, ND; heather ahtone, James T. Bialac Associate Curator of Native American & Non-Western Art, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma; and Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Ph.D., Assistant Curator of Native American Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art. An informal panel talk with the guest jurors will provide insight on the selection process and address topics regarding the contemporary Native American art.

The Honorable Harvest: Indigenous Knowledge for Biodiversity Conservation - Oct. 25, 2016

Robin Kimmerer, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Founding Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. This talk examines traditional indigenous approaches to the environment and the valuable lessons they teach.

The Center is hosting the University of Nebraska State Museum's annual Claire M. Hubbard First Peoples of the Plains Lecture

Watch the lecture
Metis and the Medicine Line - Sept. 29, 2016

Michel Hogue, 2016 Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize winner for Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People, Assistant Professor in History at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.

This talk examines the role Indigenous peoples played in the formation of modern political boundaries in North America. It focuses on the experiences of the Plains Metis and explores how these communities of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry were at the center of the efforts by nation-states to divide and absorb the North American West.
Download audio>

Panel: Our Grass Earth: Conserving the Great Plains - April 20, 2016

Art and ecology panel with artists Robin Walter, Sebastian Tsocanos, Kate Schneider, and Prairie Plains Resource Institute Executive Director William Whitney
Download audio>

Anthony Schutz and Peter Longo - March 16, 2016

The Nebraska Constitution has been the social contract for Nebraskans since 1875. The Constitution's persistence continues to shape Nebraska's political landscapes and constitutional changes reflect evolving beliefs.
Download audio>

David Jachowski - March 2, 2016

Jachowski is an assistant professor at Clemson University and author of Wild Again: The Struggle to Save the Black-Footed Ferret. From 2002 to 2012, was a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a team that helped coordinate the black-footed ferret’s recovery.

Elizabeth Fenn - Oct. 28, 2015

Elizabeth Fenn, Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize winner for Encounters at the Heart of the World, history chair, Univ. of Colorado Boulder, "Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People"
Download audio>

Viktoria Keding - Sept. 9, 2015

Viktoria Keding, Founder and Director, NaDEET (Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust), "Teaching Sustainability in Namibia"
Download audio

John Anderson and Eric Thompson - Feb.18, 2015

UNL professors John Anderson and Eric Thompson discussed "State Taxes in the Great Plains"
Download audio>

Roberto Lenton - March 18, 2015

Water for Food Institute Founding Executive Director Roberto Lenton discussed how storage is key to enduring adequate water, food, and energy for a growing world population in this lecture, titled "Storage Systems for Drought Management and Food and Water Security." 

Download audio (MP3)

Ken Winkle - April 15, 2015

UNL professor and award-winning Lincoln biographer Ken Winkle will deliver a lecture on "The Civil War in the Great Plains"
Download audio (MP3)

Panel: Local Food on the Great Plains - Nov. 12, 2014

A panel of experts in the local food scene spoke about where the movement is going and what challenges the Great Plains faces as the movement continues to grow. Journal Star story | Audio | Slideshow

William Powers, Executive Director, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society; Billene Nemec, State Coordinator, Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska; Renee Cornett, Prairie Plate restaurant; Bob Bernt, Clear Creek Farm; Ruth Chantry, Common Good Farms. Speakers were accompanied by several local food producers sampling food items after the lecture. Sponsored by the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.

Samplers include: Common Good Farm, Darby Springs Farm, Clear Creek Farm, Branched Oak Farm.

Bernard Flaman - Oct. 22, 2014

Conservation architect, member of the Saskatchewan Association of Architects and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada

"Architecture at a Crossroads" -- "Architecture of Saskatchewan, A Visual Journey" was conceived as an informational and educational document to engage a public audience rather than as a highly critical text on the state of architecture in the northern reaches of the Great Plains. Flaman will expand on projects illustrated in the book and share thoughts on a possible future for Great Plains architecture and the small and medium sized cities that populate the region. Flaman is the winner of the 2014 Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize for his work, "Architecture of Saskatchewan, 1930-2011." Audio download: Bernard Flaman >

T. Lindsay Baker - Sept. 18, 2014

Professor, W.K. Gordon Endowed Chair of Southwestern History, Director, W.K. Gordon Center for the Industrial History of Texas Coordinator, Public History Graduate Program, Tarleton State University

"How the Wind Did Human Work on the Farm" -- Green energy has become a popular topic among Great Plains people as fuel prices have risen, but for decades people in the region used the renewable power of the wind to do part of their physical work. Baker will speak about how Plains residents pumped water, ground grain, sawed firewood, ran machine shops, and generated their own electricity using the free power of the wind. Audio from Baker's talk >

Miguel Carranza - March 19, 2014

Potholes and Sinkholes on the Road to Immigration Reform
Professor of Latina/Latino Studies & Sociology, Director, Latina/Latino Studies Program, University of Missouri-Kansas City

"The arrival of 'newcomers' from other countries has happened since the earliest days of settling the United States. These newcomers – immigrants – have come to flee persecution and poverty in their own countries in hopes of making something of themselves and something for their families. Immigrants have frequently had the challenge of entering the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder and having to prove their worth in order to achieve the 'American Dream' and become an integral part of our society. 

My presentation focuses on how the climate has changed over time for immigrants and their perceived value to our society. This climate has an impact, not only on our national borders and shores but throughout the U.S., including the Midwest and Great Plains regions. Furthermore, the factors that influence this environmental shift have a great deal to do with any success in achieving immigration reform."

Derek Hoff - Feb. 26, 2014

A Prophet without Honor?: Malthus on the Great Plains
History department, Kansas State University, author of The State and the Stork: The Population Debate and Policy Making in U.S. History (University of Chicago Press, 2012), and, with John Fliter, Fighting Foreclosure: The Blaisdell Case, the Contract Clause, and the Great Depression (University Press of Kansas, 2012).

From late nineteenth-century Bonanza farming to President Roosevelt's assurances to Great Plains farmers that they could "Maintain Themselves on the Land" (despite his administration's other efforts to retire "submarginal" farmland and relocate farmers) to the uproar over the Buffalo Commons proposal, Great Plains residents and boosters have often welcomed and promoted population growth in particular locales. And yet the pessimistic ideas of British pastor Thomas Malthus -- who famously argued at the turn of the nineteenth century that population growth would eventually overwhelm natural resources -- have resonated to a surprising degree on the Great Plains. This lecture offers a first draft of the history of population thought in the region. 

Press release >

Timothy Schaffert - Jan. 15, 2014

Summer Souvenirs and "The Swan Gondola": Reinventing the World's Fair 
UNL English

The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898 (Omaha's World's Fair) consisted of palaces and gardens and also a midway of dirt roads and collapsible shacks, reflecting the split personality of Omaha. Schaffert will speak about the Expo and his book at this lecture.

Leon Higley - Nov. 20, 2013

Climate Change and the Insects of the Great Plains
Insect ecologist, professor, School of Natural Resources, UNL

Prof. Higley spoke on the effects of climate change on native insects and how those changes can change the landscape.

Recording of the talk

William Farr - Oct. 16, 2013

Blackfoot Redemption
Emeritus Professor, History, University of Montana, senior fellow and founding director of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West

As winner of the Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize for his book "Blackfoot Redemption: A Blood Indian's Story of Murder, Confinement, and Imperfect Justice," Farr spoke about his task writing it and how the themes translate to modern day Native American issues.

Allan McCutcheon - March 6, 2013

Welcome to the Elections from the Inside: Exit Polls and Election Projections for the Great Plains
UNL professor, Survey Research & Methodology/Gallup, Statistics, Sociology, Mathematics

Priscilla Grew - Feb. 20, 2013

Engaging Lifelong Learners in Natural History: The Land-Grant Mission of the University of Nebraska State Museum
Director, University of Nebraska State Museum

Tom Lynch and Susan Maher - Jan. 16, 2013

Artifacts and Illuminations: Critical Essays on Loren Eiseley
Associate professor of English at UNL and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota Duluth