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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Laud Wisconsin

In 1934 the state celebrated its Tercentenary, or 300th anniversary, to commemorate the landing of Jean Nicolet near Green Bay in 1634. They did this despite the fact that the families of thousands of Wisconsin residents had lived here for more than 10,000 years, that the documentation of Nicolet’s landing is notoriously skimpy, and that there was some evidence a different Frenchman actually had arrived in Wisconsin before Nicolet.

But never mind all that. It was the height of the Great Depression, and people needed something to celebrate.

The way that a community celebrates reveals much about who they are, and looking back from the vantage point of seven decades we glimpse insights into a more innocent time. In an age before not only the Web but also before TV, they staged live historical dramas about episodes from state history. They erected historic markers on ancient buildings. They held parades and pageants, such as this one by the women of Wauwatosa. They published books and articles lauding the achievements of their parents and grandparents. They made their kids study state history in their classrooms.

Today, much of it seems naïve and self-indulgent. What they thought was “history” looks childishly simple or blindly one-sided. Today we do history differently. We look for different patterns using more sophisticated methods and more powerful tools, and we reach different conclusions.

But just like our grandparents in 1934, we want to possess a shared heritage, to know our place in some story we call “Wisconsin.” We, too, want to feel proud of ourselves and our past. As tens of thousands of documents -- the raw materials of our history -- are mounted on the Web in collections such as Wisconsin Historic Images, Turning Points in Wisconsin History, and Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles, we can all find a way to discover and connect to our past.

:: Posted in Curiosities on May 6, 2005
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