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State Historical Society of Iowa Press Release

For immediate release October 6, 2009

Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

History for Lunch: Edgar Harlan and the Indian Life School

State Curator Jerome Thompson discusses Harlan’s relationship with Meskwaki

(DES MOINES) – The State Historical Society of Iowa’s popular History for Lunch lecture series continues this month with a presentation about Edgar Harlan’s relationship with the Meskwaki Tribe in the early part of the 20th century.

State Curator Jerome Thompson will present “The Museum Curator and the Meskwaki” at noon, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009, at SHSI’s Centennial Building, 402 Iowa Avenue in Iowa City. The lecture is free and the public is encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch. Limited seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The day’s events also includes an open house 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Centennial Building. Call 319-335-3911 for more information.

Harlan served as curator of the Iowa Historical Department from 1908 to1937, and championed the development of the State Museum collections.

Though his influence can be seen from natural and social history to manuscripts and portraits, he held a special interest in documenting and collecting Native American history and material culture.

Harlan’s strong relationship with the Meskwaki Tribe led to many of its artifacts being preserved and, thanks to his diligence, he built the Meskwaki collection with some of the best documentation of any Native American objects in the museum collection. In 1923, he was adopted into the tribe with the name ME-SHE-KA (Snapping Turtle).

Over the next 14 years, his relationship with the Meskwaki Tribe helped him pioneer an early form of diversity training for Des Moines elementary school teachers known as the “Indian Life School.”

Thompson has served as state curator since 2004, providing professional and technical assistance and training to local historical organizations and museums across Iowa. He has been SHSI’s interim administrator since December 2008.

He has a long tenure with SHSI, beginning in 1982, and has directed historic sites, museum and education programs for 18 years.

A native of Ames, Thompson is a graduate of Iowa State University in anthropology and began his work in museums as an archaeologist with the Texas Tech University Museum, where he obtained his MA in Museum Science in 1977.

Thompson has also worked for the Minnesota Historical Society and was the first site coordinator at Terrace Hill, a National Historic Landmark Site now serving as the residence of Iowa’s governors.


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa's past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa's historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.


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