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Public History Project releases final report, prepares for transition to campus center

April 26, 2023 By John Wilson
A man looks at a wall display in a gallery space. On the wall, paper pennants are pinned to string. Above the display, words on the wall read, "Do you call yourself a Badger? Why or why not? Write your response on a pennant and pin it to the wall."

Since its launch in 2019, the Public History Project at UW–Madison has included classroom curricula, the curation of an expansive archive and a series of public events, all culminating in the fall semester exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art. In July, the project’s work and mission will carry on in the form of the Rebecca M. Blank Center for Campus History, housed within the Division for Teaching and Learning. Photo: Colton Mansavage

Dozens of campus events, scores of curricular materials, hundreds of class visits, many newly digitized archival materials and a museum exhibit with thousands of visitors — those are just a few of the accomplishments detailed in the newly released final report from the University of Wisconsin–Madison Public History Project.

The project, designed to be a limited initiative, will come to an end this summer and staff compiled the report to provide a full picture of the project’s work since its launch in 2019. The report includes both successes and challenges in the unprecedented effort to uncover and reckon with a fuller telling of the university’s history.

The report highlights successes in developing multi-year, intensive partnerships across campus with stakeholders like the UW–Madison Archives and in fostering connections to classroom learning through hundreds of class visits with faculty from all eight of the universities’ schools and colleges.

Beyond major highlights, the report also includes detailed descriptions of how staff carried out nuts and bolts operations and project development over four years — something that was quite intentional, according to Director Kacie Lucchini Butcher.

“We wanted people at other institutions, other organizations to be able to use the project as a case study if they want to do this type of public history work,” says Lucchini Butcher. “We included a lot about what went well but also a lot about what we learned along the way.”

Other institutions, like the University of Michigan, have already met with project staff to discuss the findings of the report as they begin similar work.

Building off of the success of the Public History Project, project staff and university administrators are moving forward with plans to establish a permanent campus center. Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin announced in January that the project’s work and mission would carry on in the form of the Rebecca M. Blank Center for Campus History, housed within the Division for Teaching and Learning.

“Our faculty, staff and students are eager to take this history and use it to make our campus a better place for everyone,” Chancellor Mnookin shared upon the center’s announcement.

Lucchini Butcher has been named and hired as director of the new center, and current Public History Project staff members Taylor L. Bailey and John K. Wilson have been hired as assistant director and communications manager respectively.

“The creation of the Center for Campus History gives us the opportunity to build on our shared exploration of campus history and continue to advance our commitment to a welcoming and inclusive UW–Madison,” says John Zumbrunnen, vice provost for teaching and learning. “I’m thrilled to have Kacie, Taylor and John join the Division for Teaching and Learning. And, of course, I’m very excited by what the future holds for this incredibly important work.”

Over the spring semester, the project’s staff have hosted extensive listening sessions with campus stakeholders to gather input about how the university community would like to see the center’s public history work grow and evolve. Some of the most consistent themes in the feedback have included expanding learning opportunities for faculty and staff, exploring collaborations with the greater Madison community and finding a permanent home for Sifting & Reckoning, the project’s history exhibition that was on view at the Chazen Museum of Art last fall.

More details about the Center for Campus History, which is set to open in July, will continue to be shared this summer, including details about its advisory committee and physical location.