Elaine Marie Nelson

Image of a woman in a burgundy sweater, with her arms crossed, smiling at the camera.
  • Assistant Professor
  • Executive Director, Western History Association
  • North American West; Great Plains; U.S. Women and Gender; Native American and Indigenous History

Contact Info

Wescoe Hall, Room 3628
Office Hours:
On Leave for Spring 2023 Semester
Prospective Students:
Dr. Nelson is currently taking M.A./Ph.D. advisees.
Prospective students should inquire with her about the KU graduate program before October 31, 2023.


Elaine Nelson is an Assistant Professor in the History Department specializing in the North American West. She arrived at KU in 2020 having previously taught the University of Minnesota, Morris and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Nelson became the Executive Director of the Western History Association in 2017, a position she continues after moving the WHA’s staff and operations to the KU campus. Nelson is the first woman to serve in this capacity for the WHA in the organization’s sixty years. She views her directorship as an opportunity to advocate strongly for history professionals and the future of the history discipline.

Nelson earned her Ph.D. in American Western and Comparative Indigenous history in 2011 from the University of New Mexico, a History M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a Bachelor of Arts in Education (in English and History) from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She was born and grew up in South Dakota.


B.A. in English and History Education, University of Nebraska at Kearney
M.A. in History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Ph.D. in History, University of New Mexico


Nelson is an award-winning historian whose published work appears in the Great Plains Quarterly, South Dakota History, and various anthologies. Her first book manuscript is under contract with the University of Nebraska Press and will appear in the “Many Wests” series. Titled “Dreams and Dust in the Black Hills: Tourism, Performance, and the American West in National Memory,” the project examines the complex history of memory, monuments, and tourism in the Black Hills region.

Dr. Nelson's publications on the west, Native American history, and western women's history appear in the Great Plains QuarterlySouth Dakota History, and in various anthologies on Mari Sandoz, Urban Indigenous History, and the National Park Service. Nelson also completed an exhibit catalog on the historical persistence of women in Omaha based on her 2018 public exhibit at The Durham Museum (read more below).

Nelson received the 2020 Frederick C. Luebke Award for Best Article in the Great Plains Quarterly and the 2020 “Coke” Wood Award for Historical Monograph or Published Article from Westerners International (both for “Draft by Draft: The Battle of Sandoz and Her Big Horn Manuscript,” Great Plains Quarterly), as well as the 2019 Alice Smith Public History Prize from the Midwestern History Association for “Women in Omaha: A Biographical Sketch of Persistence through History.” She has presented her work at several professional conferences and received fellowships and grants from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, Newberry Library, The Huntington Library, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, American Heritage Center, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, Center for Great Plains Studies, Nebraska Historical Society, and the American Philosophical Society.


At KU Nelson teaches courses focused on the Great Plains, North American West, women and gender, and U.S. history in general.

Selected Publications

"Mni Luzahan and ‘our beautiful city’: Indigenous Resistance in Rapid City and the Black Hills up to 1937,” in Cathleen Cahill and Andrew Needham, Eds., Indian Cities: Histories of Indigenous Urbanism, University of Oklahoma Press (Winter 2022)

“‘No where to be found’: Myth-Mapping, Empire, and Resistance in the Black Hills Country, 1800-1860,” South Dakota History (Summer 2021)

Women in Omaha: An Exhibit Catalog of a Biographical Sketch of Persistence Through History, 2019

“Draft by Draft: The Battle of Sandoz and Her Big Horn Manuscript,” Great Plains Quarterly (Spring 2019)

“The Legacy of Black Hills Tourism and Native American Performers,” in Matthew J. Hill, ed., Reinterpreting Mount Rushmore’s Heritage: Native Engagements with a National Memorial in the Context of the Black Hills (Cooperative Agreement #P14AC00888, Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service and The University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2019)

“Cultural Survival and the Omaha Way: Eunice Woodhull Stabler’s Legacy of Preservation on the Twentieth-Century Plains,” Great Plains Quarterly (Summer 2009)


Co-Curator, “Women in Omaha: A Biographical Sketch of Persistence through History,” The Durham Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, February 3-July 29, 2018. Awarded the Alice Smith Public History Prize, Midwestern History Association, May 24, 2019.

This collaborative teaching and public engagement project featured the stories of women from diverse backgrounds and highlighted their experiences as advocates, leaders, and professional. Read more about the exhibit here and here.