If you have found your way over to this blog, you may be familiar with University of Wisconsin–Madison’s new Public History Project. If not, here are the basics.
- The project grew out of a campus study group that examined the history of two UW–Madison student organizations in the early 1900s that were both named the Ku Klux Klan. Chancellor Rebecca Blank commissioned the Public History Project as one of several responses to the study group’s findings. This project aims to recover the voices, experiences, and struggles of marginalized groups on our campus over the past century. The broad intent of the project is to build a more inclusive university community through an honest reckoning with the institution’s past.
- My name is Kacie Lucchini Butcher and I was hired to direct the Public History Project. I am a public historian whose work is dedicated to building empathy, helping communities write their own history, and advancing social justice and social equity. I believe that my role as a public historian is to elevate other peoples’ voices and narratives. My prior working experience has shown me that public history projects can radically alter the way people think about their communities.
- Prior to coming to UW–Madison, I co-curated Owning Up: Racism and Housing in Minneapolis, which explores the history of racist housing policy in the 20th century and its lasting effects on the city of Minneapolis. I worked at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in the historic Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, where I helped to maintain a community archive and conducted oral history interviews with community elders. I also worked at the Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis installing Owning Up in their community history gallery.
- I view my role in this work as twofold: as scholar and as cruise director. While I will conduct, oversee, and interpret academic research for presentation in public facing historical works, I will also be organizing a production timeline and strategizing how to tell this history in a way that reflects the needs of this community.
- I cannot do this work alone. There are many opportunities for students, faculty, staff, alumni and others to become involved and I hope you will. An advisory committee of historians, students, and community leaders has been established to help guide this work. We are in the process of hiring undergraduate and graduate student workers to research in the archives and conduct oral history interviews. We are actively collaborating with faculty to bring this project into the classroom and allow students to participate in the production of historical knowledge. Together, with the campus community, we will work to make this project a reality.
- Over the next 2 ½ years, this project will research, compile, organize, and present stories from the history of this place from the perspective of various peoples and communities. To be clear, this is a monumental challenge. As any historian will tell you, it is impossible to tell the total and complete story of one place that includes all people, all viewpoints, all experiences. Inevitably, there will be stories we cannot include. However, we intend to rise to this challenge and try tell the most complete story that we can. This project began with an investigation of exclusion and discrimination, but also with a commitment to recover the voices and visions of people who resisted marginalization and exclusion on this campus. This history contains hard truths that may provoke difficult conversations. The stories we are uncovering will push us as campus community to question not only our past, but our present. Yet, at the end of the day, this is our story. Knowing our past is the first step to learning from it. Reckoning with our history is a step towards changing our future.
- Research has already begun on the project, but there is a lot of work to be done. We plan to spend most of our energy during the next calendar year on research. We will be performing archival research in the UW Archives and the Wisconsin Historical Society archives. We will also be partnering with university historians, local historians, and student historians whose work has focused on this history. Many people have dedicated their lives to studying the history of this place and we plan to take advantage of their intellectual generosity and thoughtful scholarship.
Individuals are not often taught to think of themselves as sources of historical knowledge, but they are. Individuals hold intimate knowledge of their campus, their neighborhoods, and their communities. That is why we want to hear from you. If you have a story to share, an event you think should be researched, or a person you think has been overlooked, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whenever possible, we will allow people affected by this history to tell their stories in their own voice. We are therefore partnering with Troy Reeves and the UW Archives Oral History program to conduct oral history interviews with students, faculty, alumni, and community leaders. Please share your stories with us! We believe that this project will be the most successful when it deeply engages our entire community.
Look for updates to this blog in the coming months, as we post updates on the work we are doing and highlight areas of research.
As a Wisconsinite, it is an honor to do this work for the Madison community. I look forward to continuing these conversations with you all.
Kacie Lucchini Butcher