Badger History Bulletin - Review
Wisconsin: The Story of the Badger State
By Norman K. Risjord. (Wisconsin Trails, Madison, WI, 1995.) ISBN 0-915024-49-7, 236 pages, $16.95 Paperbound, Illustrations
Originally published in BHB Volume 2, Number 1
This year Kimberly High School will be implementing a block schedule, and the Social Studies Department, in an effort to expand course offerings and fill what we consider a growing need for knowledge about our state, has developed "Wisconsin Studies," an area study of the Badger state. This nine-week elective course for juniors and seniors examines the history, geography, government, and major economic activities of Wisconsin. Suitable material for the geography, government, and economic portions of the course were readily available but we were momentarily frustrated with the history portion. There are many lengthy histories available but we needed something that could fit comfortably in the two-and-a-half week time allotment. The material had to be written in a style that would appeal to high school students, cover the significant events and personalities in Wisconsin history, and provide opportunities for additional classroom activities. We found such a book in Norman K. Risjord's Wisconsin: The Story of the Badger State. In the book's preface, Professor Risjord tells us that "the book was written with people who hate history in mind," and one cannot think of a more appropriate audience than most high school students who, for unknown reasons, have a limited passion for their nation's and state's collective memories.
Wisconsin: The Story of the Badger State is a chronological narrative that takes the reader from the physical foundations of the state and its earliest inhabitants, through the fur-trading endeavors of the French, the war for empire, the brief British period, and the American Revolution. The middle portion of the book details the early American period, territorial days, statehood, Wisconsin's role in the Civil War, and the dramatic changes in the state's agricultural base. Chapter 6 focuses on the career of Robert La Follette and the growth of progressivism, the "Wisconsin Idea." The final chapter, "Our Times," traces events through the Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, to the Badger's Rose Bowl victory in 1994. Political events and personalities of the 1950s and 60s dominate this portion of the text as the author focuses on topics from Joe McCarthy to the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Several features of the book deserve comment. There are quality black and white photographs throughout as well as pertinent maps in the early chapters. The outstanding feature of the book, other than writing quality, is the Traveler's Guide, found at the end of each chapter. Risjord lists places throughout the state that enhance the material covered in the chapter. If you want to see terminal moraines, visit a logging camp, explore a lead mine, or enjoy an ice cream cone, Risjord provides you with all the necessary information. I have a feeling that field trips will be a significant part of any course utilizing The Story of the Badger State. The works mentioned in the list of suggested readings should be available in most high school libraries.
The reader has to realize that this is a "popular history" of Wisconsin and does not necessarily detail everything in the state's history. But herein lies what I consider its strength as a high school text. In fulfilling his promise of a history book for people who do not like history, Risjord gives the student just enough information to encourage some additional research. There are so many possible activities within each chapter that the challenge to the teacher will be to confine the material to the time restrictions.
As a teacher with over three decades of classroom experience, I am looking forward to infusing Professor Risjord's delightful book into our new course, Wisconsin Studies.
Kimberly High School