The Visual and Sound Archives Research Room is located on the fourth floor of the Historical Society, across from the Archives Research Room. All belongings must be stored in lockers located just outside the door.
The State Historical Society's Sound Archives contain audiotapes and disc recordings. The materials concerning World War II encompass a wide range of areas, including radio broadcasts of war events such as the D-Day invasion, recordings of speeches and other programs, and oral histories. The people whose voices may be heard include war correspondents, individuals in military and government service, relief workers, and others. Of particular interest are oral histories concerning life aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin, the activities of Wisconsin women during the war, and the experiences of Holocaust survivors who eventually settled in Wisconsin.
The Sound Archives are catalogued with manuscripts in the Archives Research Room on the fourth floor of the Historical Society. If the audio material has a related manuscript collection (and occasionally even if it does not), further information may sometimes be obtained from a register to the collection. Using call numbers obtained from the Reading Room, audio recordings may be requested through the Visual and Sound Archives, also on the fourth floor of the Society. It is wise to have as much information as possible on hand when requesting a tape. For example, Tape 655A consists of twenty reels of recorded broadcasts by Louis Lochner. Asking for a particular tape side or date of broadcast will help the staff find the material needed. Researchers should verify the existence of a cassette user copy before they intend to listen to it, and appointments to use the listening room must be made in advance. When no user copy is available, several days or longer may be required to make the copy. In some cases, it is possible to purchase duplicate cassettes for personal use. For details, consult the Visual and Sound Archives staff.
The visual collections include approximately two million photographs, negatives, cartoons, lithographs, posters, albums, and related ephemera from private, business, and government sources. Many of the collections relate to documents found in the manuscript collections. Although the visual collections are particularly rich in documentation of life in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the upper Midwest, they also touch on many aspects of life in the United States and foreign countries.
The photographs, posters, and other materials listed here provide a visual record of the war era. Among them are photographs documenting Wisconsin's wartime shipbuilding and armaments manufacturing, camps constructed in the state to house POWs, and the resettlement of European refugees. In addition, there are materials relating to the activities of Wisconsin citizens who served in the U.S. armed forces, as government officials in Washington, and as relief workers after the war. These provide firsthand documentation of invasion beachheads, bomb-ravaged European cities, and concentration camp atrocities. There are also collections dealing with the careers of prominent American war correspondents, men and women who, for example, had personal interviews with Churchill and Hitler and were firsthand witnesses to the Blitzkrieg and the Normandy invasion.
Photographs are arranged in a number of ways. First, there are three self-service files. The Place File is a collection of pictures of Wisconsin towns and a scattering of cities around the United States arranged alphabetically. It can be used to see how towns changed over time or to find pictures of important buildings. The Name File, which consists of an alphabetically arranged collection of pictures of individuals and groups, is a good place to start for pictures of specific individuals. Finally, the Classified File is a collection organized by subject. Copies of the index to categories in this collection may be found on top of the cabinets; some of the categories that contain material relating to World War II include patriotism, the Red Cross, shipbuilding, rationing, camouflage, and civil defense. The index will provide classification numbers under which the photos are filed.
The pictures in the various files mentioned above represent less than 1 percent of the images in the Visual and Sound Archives. The bulk of the collection is stored in lots, which are accessed through a card catalog with name and subject entries. Staff members will then retrieve lots for patrons to use. The size of the lots can vary considerably; if that information is not provided in this guide, you may have to consult the card catalog to determine how much is there.
The card catalog contains several files: the main file is an alphabetical listing of lots by subject, donor, place, and medium (poster, drawing, etc.). There is also a chronological catalog listing material specifically connected with certain years, like catalogs, brochures, and documentary photographs. Finally, there is a catalog arranged by lot number. Please note that more recent lots and unprocessed lots do not appear in the catalog. Consult the staff to find information on these materials.
Photocopies of images may be made in the Reading Room, but under no circumstances will archival materials be loaned. Researchers may arrange to shoot slides with their own equipment within the archives, or they may purchase black-and-white prints (in a variety of sizes) of most images. Consult the staff for current prices and delivery times.
Visual archives hours vary. Please call ahead.