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What is the Public History Project?

The project is a multi-year effort to uncover and give voice to those who experienced, challenged and overcame prejudice on campus.

What are its origins?

The project grew out of a campus study group that looked into the history of two UW–Madison student organizations in the early 1920s that bore the name of the Ku Klux Klan. The study group concluded that the history the university needed to confront was not the aberrant work of a couple of organizations or a set of individuals, but rather a pervasive campus culture that allowed racism and religious bigotry to flourish largely unchecked. Chancellor Rebecca Blank commissioned the Public History Project as one of several responses to the study group’s findings.

Why is the project necessary?

History has modern-day legacies. Our hope is that by confronting our past we can improve the future. We know there is much work to be done. In a 2016 campus survey, students from historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, while reporting generally positive experiences on campus, consistently rated the climate on campus less favorably than students from majority groups. With this project, UW–Madison will join many other major universities, including Georgetown, Brown and the University of Virginia, in confronting histories of prejudice and bigotry. This difficult work has proven necessary if universities are to create educational environments where all students can thrive.

What does the project hope to achieve?

The broad intent of the project is to ensure that all students and alumni are aware of the full history of the university, including the accomplishments of campus community members from marginalized populations whose stories previously may have been hidden or not widely known.

Who will lead the project?

UW–Madison has hired Kacie Lucchini Butcher as director of the Public History Project. She is a public historian and award-winning museum curator who works with marginalized communities to tell their stories. Lucchini Butcher began Aug. 1, 2019. She will work collaboratively with a Public History Project advisory committee led by Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of History Stephen Kantrowitz. Throughout the project, Lucchini Butcher plans to engage with students, faculty, staff, alumni and other community members. She expects to hire graduate and undergraduate students to assist her with research. Lucchini Butcher’s office is in the History Department in the George Mosse Humanities Building.

What will the finished project look like?

The exact form the Public History Project will take has not been decided, though it is expected to include both physical and digital elements. A completion date has not been set. Work began in Fall 2019 on the research that will underpin the project.

How can I participate?

Community collaboration will be at the core of the Public History Project. Lucchini Butcher welcomes suggestions and input, especially recommendations on people to research and interview. She can be reached at publichistoryproject@history.wisc.edu.