Badger History Bulletin - Review
Wisconsin Land and Life
By Robert C. Ostergren and Thomas R. Vale. (University Of Wisconsin Press, Madison), 582 pages, b/w, photographs, ISBN 0-299-15354-1, paperback $27.95
Wisconsin Land and Life is a well-organized collection of 27 articles prepared by those associated with the field of geography at the University of Wisconsin-graduate students, faculty and graduates-including some of the nation's most renowned cultural geographers. Those that assume that geography is mind-numbing and academic will be pleasantly surprised. The book is fascinating and highly readable.
The volume provides an introduction to Wisconsin's natural environment and wild landscapes. It give particular attention to glacial landscapes, vegetation, and the state's much discussed weather and climate. This section is followed by article son the process of Euro- American settlement of Wisconsin, the development of the lead region, the creation of towns, particularly on the lumbering frontier and in the iron ore district. Other articles cover Wisconsin's ethnic settlement, including Poles and Germans in Milwaukee, Welsh in Waukesha County, Dutch in eastern Wisconsin, and Norwegians in Western Wisconsin. Several articles cover Native American field patterns, rice harvesting, and treaty rights. Wisconsin readers can readily identify with many of the topics: Milwaukee landmarks, dairy barns and silos, the origin of the Dells as a tourist destination, the Northwoods, and the increasingly generic built environment.
This book may be the single most important work currently in print on the Wisconsin landscape and built environment. It is an essential reference work for Wisconsin historians, architectural historians, and geographers: fun reading for the state's residents; and potential course material for college and advanced high school students. To attract general readers, the editors worked to make the writing accessible. The goal is furthered by the format of short articles and topics that are similar and tangible to many state residents. Many of the articles could be read by advanced high school students as well as college students, not only in history courses, but also in ecology courses. The book provides a model of good writing as well.
Wisconsin Land and Life shoes the continuing vitality of the "Wisconsin Idea," making academic information publicly accessible. The University of Wisconsin geography department has a long history of such work. Since the 1930s the department has also been an important center for regional geography studies, a perspective again returning to vogue. This new volume illustrates the value of these approaches.
Historic Preservation SHSW
A version of this review appeared in Wisconsin Preservation News.