A message from Rick Edwards, Director for the Center for Great Plains Studies

The Center is known for scholarly accomplishments, striking art exhibitions, and informative talks. But more than that, it is a place to learn from the past, confront the issues shaping our region today, and look to what the future holds for the Great Plains. We strive to improve our programs and enhance their impact as positive contributions to the Great Plains.

The mission of the Center is to foster study of the people and the environment of Great Plains. This should be a place of ideas and regional engagement. As we work to conserve our eco-system and help human communities thrive, we hope you'll take a look at a few things we offer.

  • Scholarly works: Great Plains Quarterly and Great Plains Research are our two journals available through the University of Nebraska Press. Within these we hope to bring relevant interdisciplinary work -- articles on science, ecology, social science and the humanities are all found within their pages. Beyond the journals, we've produced larger works, like the Atlas of the Great Plains and the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Our courses of study in the Great Plains attract bright students with deep interests in this section of the continent.

  • Community engagement: The Center is the host for the Paul A. Olson seminars, a series of lectures on various topics throughout the school year. And this is just one of the ways we connect with our community. Recently, the Center produced a print and digital map of the top 50 ecotourism sites in the Great Plains, furthering our conservation mission. This April, we hosted our 39th Annual Symposium, held this year at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, on the topic of rural education, bringing to light important issues for the future of rural schools and rural communities.

  • Art: The Great Plains Art Museum inhabits the first floor and lower level of the Center. Yes, through those non-descript glass doors of the Hewit Place building is a world-class art museum (we're working on giving our building a facelift). Our mission is to connect with artists who work to capture the Great Plains through their chosen medium. This past year the museum has hosted exhibits of photography, sculptures and even youth work from area schools. It continues to be an important part of our work in sharing the culture of the Great Plains with the public.

The Center and all of its programs are located in Hewit Place at the corner of 12th and Q streets. Standing before the museum's doors is a life-sized five-figure sculpture of Lewis and Clark titled "On the Trail of Discovery." Feel free to give Lewis and Clark's dog a good pat on the head as you venture into the museum. We thank all visitors and friends of the center for helping us in our mission.

About Rick Edwards

Director, Center for Great Plains Studies

Rick Edwards is Professor of Economics and Senior Vice Chancellor (emeritus) as well as Director of the Center for Great Plains Studies.

His most recent book is Natives of a Dry Place: Stories of Dakota before the Oil Boom, which explores the lives of ordinary folks in the small wheat town of Stanley, ND. They learned to create rich and meaningful lives for themselves despite the harsh climate of their homeland. On occasion they showed extraordinary courage, love, purpose, pluck, humor and determination, and they developed a distinctive culture whose values are now fading from view, as is true in so much of the small-town Great Plains. In the face of great changes in the region, it is important to remember these achievements of the past.

He is married to Carolyn Edwards, Willa Cather Professor and Professor of Psychology and Child, Youth, and Family Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They have three children, Sam Holland Edwards, a corporate and securities attorney with the firm of Holland & Hart in Denver; George Edwards, a software expert witness at Quandary Peak Research in Los Angeles; and Rebecca Edwards, a student in the M.D./Ph.D. program at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Became the Center's director in November 2011.


Ph.D. Harvard University
M.A. Harvard University
B.A. Grinnell College

Research interests

Conservation and ecotourism in the Great Plains; the economics, history, demography, and natural resources of the Great Plains; issues in higher education

Current Projects

Ecotourism and the conservation of the Great Plains grasslands

This work tries to promote ecotourism as a strategy for preserving the enormous and precious biodiversity of the Great Plains grasslands. I work jointly, in changing combinations, with Sarah Sortum of the Switzer Ranch and Nature Preserve (Burwell, NE), conservationists at the WWF Northern Great Plains Program (Bozeman, MT), Tyler Sutton of the Grassland Foundation (Lincoln, NE), and others. The work is inspired by the highly successful models of ecotourism-driven conservation developed by African and WWF personnel in Namibia and Botswana; there, high-value, low-volume ecotourism incentivizes private-landowner conservation, resulting in stable or growing species populations, thriving nearby human communities, and a deepening national consciousness of the economic and aesthetic value of their natural environment. We hope to build a similarly robust and profitable ecotourism industry in the Great Plains, producing real conservation gains, promoting rural jobs and healthy local economies, and growing public appreciation for the nature of the Great Plains.

The history of homesteading

This work seeks to explore and explain homesteading in the Great Plains. One project is a massive effort to digitize and make accessible to genealogists and scholars the vast homestead files lodged at the National Archives and Records Administration (Washington, DC); this is a joint project with Superintendent Mark Engler of the Homestead National Monument of America (Beatrice, NE), and Professor Kay Walter of the UNL Libraries, together with, a non-profit genealogical organization, and, a for-profit online records company (both located in Utah). The project recently celebrated completing the scanning of the 1,000,000th homesteading image and will soon complete the digitizing of all homestead files for Nebraska. A second project is my own scholarship on homesteading, including such controversies as the relationship between homesteading and Indian land dispossession, the extent of fraud in homesteading, and homesteading’s impact on the environment.

Other Great Plains topics


The Center for Great Plains Studies, in collaboration with NET-TV, has produced for the World Wildlife Fund four short animated videos displaying different aspects of settlement and habitat destruction in the Great Plains. The videos concern conversion of the prairie into plowed croplands, habitat fragmentation, energy development including the spread of windfarms, decline of and partial restoration of the bison, and pronghorn migration routes.

Grassland conversion

Energy development

Bison range

Habitat fragmentation

The Center for Great Plains Studies, in collaboration with NET-TV, has produced for the World Wildlife Fund four short animated videos displaying different aspects of settlement and habitat destruction in the Great Plains. The videos were created by Scott Beachler (NET) with geographical expertise provided by Prof. Clark Archer (UNL, Geography and Center for Great Plains Studies), based in part on the maps Prof. Clark and colleagues constructed for Atlas of the Great Plains (2011, University of Nebraska Press). The videos show conversion of the prairie into plowed croplands, habitat fragmentation, energy development including the spread of windfarms, decline of and partial restoration of the bison, and pronghorn migration routes.

Population change in the Great Plains

Click here to download a Flash file of the animation

This animation was created by Dr. Kenneth French, Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, while he was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Posted with permission.

Books published

NEBRASKA 1875: Its Advantages, Resources, and Drawbacks (University of Nebraska Press 2006)

UNDERSTANDING CAPITALISM: Competition, Command, and Change (with Samuel Bowles and Frank Roosevelt, Oxford University Press 1981, 1991, 2005)

RIGHTS AT WORK: Employment Relations in the Post-Union Era (The Brookings Institution 1993); THE FORGOTTEN LINK: Labor's Stake in International Economic Integration (with Paolo Garonna, Rowman and Littlefield 1991)

THE PROBLEM OF YOUTH: The Regulation of Youth Employment and Training in Advanced Economies (with Paul Ryan and Paolo Garonna, Macmillan 1991)

UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Essays in Honor of John Kenneth Galbraith (with Samuel Bowles and William G. Shepherd, Houghton Mifflin 1989)

IL SINDICATO OLTRE LA CRISI (with Paolo Garonna and Elena Pisani, Franco Angeli Libri 1988)

UNIONS IN CRISIS AND BEYOND: Perspectives from Six Countries (with Paolo Garonna and Franz Tödtling, Auburn House 1986)

SEGMENTED WORK, DIVIDED WORKERS: The Transformation of Labor in the United States (with David Gordon and Michael Reich, Cambridge University Press 1982)

CONTESTED TERRAIN: The Transformation of the Workplace in the 20th Century (Basic Books 1979)

LABOR MARKET SEGMENTATION (with David Gordon and Michael Reich, Lexington Books 1975)

THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM (with Michael Reich and Thomas Weisskopf, Prentice-Hall 1970, 1978, 1986).

Published in

Change, American Economic Review, Journal of Economic History, Academe, Organization, Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Journal of Human Resources


Cole Prize; German Marshall Fund Fellow; Research Fellowship, Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars; ranked among the top 100 Economists, Journal of Economic Education (1989)

Selected articles

Director Rick Edwards

Director Richard Edwards

Contact information

Hewit Place, 306
1155 Q St.
Lincoln, NE 68588
Phone: 402-472-0602

Natives of a Dry Place
Natives of a Dry Place: Stories of Dakota Before the Oil Boom

By Richard Edwards

Contrasting values of resoluteness, devotion to community, and modesty with the trials of the modern oil-boom community, author Richard Edwards examines the old town's virtues through the stories of those who built and sustained a community on the dry, open plains in the 20th Century.

South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2015