BILLINGS — The Montana State University Billings Library announced its fall lecture series, “Butte: The Richest Hill on Earth,” featuring the topic of Butte, Montana.
The weekly, four-part series takes place Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 8 p.m., beginning Oct. 8. They will be held in MSU Billings Library room 148; each lecture is free of charge and open to the public.
“We have some outstanding lecture speakers for this series, including a couple of MSU Billings faculty,” said MSU Billings Library Director Darlene Hert, “In addition, there will be a couple of guest speakers who have authored books about Butte and Montana.”
The series opens on Oct. 8, with a presentation by Dr. Keith Edgerton, department chair and professor of history. His talk, “The Black Heart of Montana” explores the city of “Butte, America” and its deep roots, both colorful as well as dark. Edgerton will focus on how Butte has evolved from what some may say the “black heart of Montana” to what is now known as the “richest hill on earth.”
Dr. Edgerton currently serves as a professor of history and chair of the history department at MSU Billings. For over 24 years, he has taught a variety of classes including American history, environmental history, and Montana history. He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in history from the University of Montana and a Ph.D. in American studies from Washington State University. In addition to his accomplishments in the classroom, Edgerton has published two books, conducted historical research, and spoken on a variety of topics within his realm of knowledge.
On Oct. 15, Beth Judy will present, “Dignity and a Voice: The Women’s Protective Union, 1890-1973”. Judy’s lecture focuses on The Women’s Protective Union, founded in 1890 by a group of women looking to join together and move forward in the world. For many years, the union was the subject of endless ridicule, but the group persisted for 83 years, helping Butte families and women of all ages find success and stay out of poverty.
Judy is an accomplished author and freelance writer who grew up in Chicago. She received her master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Montana before working in public health, the arts, public radio, and publishing. A current resident of Missoula, Judy has written and published a variety of works including the popular, “Bold Women in Montana History,” published in 2017, as well as articles in Montana Magazine and Prairie Home Companion.
The series will continue on Oct. 22 with a presentation by Janelle M. Olberding titled, “Butte and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.” This lecture explores the influenza pandemic between 1918 and 1919, specifically its effects in Montana and Butte, where the population faced record-high mortality rates. Olberding asks the question, “Why did Butte suffer such a high mortality rate?” among many other issues. Her lecture dives into a variety of topics, including treatments, civil unrest, and emotional struggles of those who suffered on the “richest hill on earth.”
Olberding is an independent historian, part-time educator, and author. In May of this year, her book, “Butte and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic,” was published by The History Press and serves as the basis for her lecture in this series. Olberding holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Montana and a master’s degree in history from Norwich University. Throughout her career, she has worked in public health and education, and currently serves as the Director of Marketing and Public Relations as well as an adjunct instructor at Dawson Community College in Glendive.
MSU Billings Geography and Environmental Studies Professor Dr. Susan Gilbertz will present the final lecture for the series, “Milltown Superfund: Contamination, Remediation and Restoration” on Oct. 29. Her lecture tracks over 100 years of activities in the Clarks Fork River Valley that led to one of the most costly environmental cleanups in U.S. history. Her lecture focuses on the Milltown Reservoir Cleanup and also looks at key players in the remediation and restoration of the area.
After receiving her Ph.D. in geography from Texas A&M University, Gilbertz has been involved at MSU Billings since 2003. In addition to teaching, she also served as the Director of Environmental Studies for over five years. Since then, she has committed to researching a plethora of environmental issues with special focus on how communities make decisions about their local environments. Some of her other research projects include Big Hole and Gallatin River valleys, oil and gas development in eastern Montana, and the 1971 Montana Constitutional Convention.
“Library staff have been polling the audience at our lecture series to find out what kinds of topics/themes they would like us to present on, and Butte and environmental topics have been a recurring request,” said Hert. “We’re pretty excited that we are able to present the Butte lectures.”
The fall lecture series is sponsored by the MSU Billings Library and Humanities Montana.
For more information on this year’s series, contact MSU Billings Library Director Darlene Hert at
or (406) 657-1655.