2004 in Review
2004 was an eventful year for the Wisconsin Historical Society. From the arrival of our new director to our award-winning website, events this year show that now, more than ever, the Society serves as a source of pride and inspiration for Wisconsin history. As the year closes, we want to reflect on the major events that helped the Society fulfill its mission of connecting people with history.
Brown Brings Vision as New Leader
The Society welcomed the arrival of Ellsworth H. Brown as its 13th Director. Two years after the departure of Brown's predecessor and following large budget cuts, the Society attracted Brown's interest. The former President of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, he brings the right mix of experience, love for history and vision to lead this American history enterprise in the 21st century.
When asked about his vision for the Society, Brown replied that he didn't have one . . . but that he has a vision for the people of Wisconsin, whom the Society serves. "The Society connects people to the past," Brown said, "And my wish is that all of Wisconsin's citizens understand that what they do in their lives and what the organizations in their communities do is also part of history. We collect things that are too hard for others to collect, and we share them."
Students Make National History Day a Smashing Success
The Society's connection of Wisconsin's youth with the past resulted in record participation in National History Day. More than 4,000 middle and high-school students competed statewide, presenting history projects in a variety of mediums, and culminating in national competition. Creativity, the craft of historical research and passion for the past are evident in these inspiring young historians. The program is coordinated by the Society and supported by parents, teachers and volunteers statewide. We anticipate more than 6,000 students will participate this year.
wisconsinhistory.org — the Website with the Mostest
wisconsinhistory.org is the fastest growing segment of the Society's public history programs. A staggering 1.7 million visits were paid to the Society's website.
There's something for everyone among the site's features: Odd Wisconsin collected the weird, wild and unusual of Wisconsin's past. Turning Points brings together original research material to support teachers and students studying Wisconsin history. American Journeys represents a treasure trove of primary source documents, many exclusive to the Society. Recognized by its peers, the Web site won a pair of "Webbie" awards from the Wisconsin Library Association, for "Coolest Design" and "Best of the Best." The site continues to grow because we are reallocating resources and seeking grants and private funding to expand our Web presence and provide the digital access people now prefer.
Audiences Determine Turning Points in Wisconsin History
The Society asked our users what they thought were the most important turning points in Wisconsin history. Some 100,000 teachers, students, parents, and researchers voted, and the Society built a Web-based program on the outcome. Turning Points was rolled out in December. This was a major change, and a sign of how the Society now engages our audience in an ongoing conversation about the past.
And the Award Goes To. . .
Other Society programs were recognized for excellence in 2004. The Society won the National PBS Development Award for WW II Stories, a collaborative effort with Wisconsin Public Television. In fact, for WW II Stories "Pacific", WPT received three regional Emmy nominations and one regional Emmy Award.
Three books published by the Society Press won awards from the Council for Wisconsin Writers: Gordon MacQuarrie: The Story of an Old Duck Hunter by Keith Crowley, the Ellis-Henderson Outdoor Writing Award; At the Creation: Myth, Reality, and the Origin of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, 1901-1909 by Herbert Wagner, Honorable Mention for the August Derleth Book-Length Nonfiction award; and Native People of Wisconsin, by Patty Loew, the Juvenile Nonfiction Book Award.
Historic Sites – A Major Attraction
Ever resourceful and attuned to their audience, the Society's historic sites beat the national trend in declining attendance, posting level and in some cases increased visitation.
More than 180,000 visitors made a personal connection with history at the historic sites, including events like Wade House's annual Civil War ground-shaking battle reenactment. The sites benefited from the extraordinary generosity of donors, employees, volunteers and support groups who gave thousands of hours and dollars for the love of history. The largest support group, Friends of Old World Wisconsin, celebrated its 20th anniversary of public service and the aggregate contribution of more than $3 million.
Kids Visit Old World Wisconsin
Old World Wisconsin increased overall attendance by 37 percent, and children's attendance by 101 percent in the month of August through innovative promotions and programming. During the month, kids 12 and under were admitted free, a program generously underwritten by the Wisconsin Education Association Council. The program was part of an overall initiative to connect more children with the past.
Congress Supports Military Newspapers Collection
Capping the year was endorsement of the Society's relevance and vitality by the federal government. In late November, The Society learned from Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of $50,000 in earmarked funds to begin digitizing its military newspaper collection. This collection is the largest in the world and dates from the 1847 Mexican war. It is regularly updated with the addition of contemporary newspapers from military units such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A True Partner
The Society and the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced a partnership between the Society's fundraising arm, the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, and the UW Foundation to raise funds for the Society's North American history library. The Society and UW-Madison libraries also formed a partnership to purchase university press titles in the field of North American history. Using a restricted fund at the university libraries, these books are acquired and processed at Memorial Library and reach the Historical Society ready for patrons' use.
The Society also joined with the University Library to increase the rate at which we digitize Society collections for Web access. In 2004, important state government publications were sent to the Memorial Library for scanning and Web preparation.
Finally, the Society's and Memorial Library's digital collections staff collaborated on a $500,000 funding application to the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize part of the Society's massive microfilmed newspaper holdings. Word of our success is anticipated eagerly.
Uncle Sam Offers a Challenge
This spring the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a $500,000 challenge grant to the Society to expand a Library and Archives Preservation Endowment Fund created in 2003. Once established, the fund will be dedicated to the preservation of the Society's world-class North American history collection. Upon hearing of the NEH grant, the Mead Witter Foundation challenged the Society to raise $100,000 in new money for the preservation endowment by December 31, 2004, which the foundation would match with $100,000. By year's end, the Society secured donations and matching funds exceeding $580,000. To date, the Society, through its Wisconsin Historical Foundation fund-raising arm, has now raised more than $1.1 million toward the total endowment goal of $2.5 million.