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Turning Points in Wisconsin History

Our History in the Classroom

To help teachers, students, and lifelong learners, the Wisconsin Historical Society has created this Web site that gives free access to original documents, lesson plans, classroom activities, and background essays on key historical events. These materials address the specific performance standards for social studies issued by the Dept. of Public Instruction, and are designed to be easy to understand and convenient to use in the classroom.

"Turning Points in Wisconsin History" was modeled on our successful American Journeys project (which you can see at but focuses only on Wisconsin instead of the entire country. It gives not only teachers but also students, parents, and the general public easy access to important primary sources and explains their significance.

"It's My History" Campaign, May 2004

To ensure that educators and students got exactly what they needed, we made it fun for them to tell us what they wanted. In March and April, 2004, we asked experts around the state to identify pivotal events from Wisconsin history - - specific episodes or broad developments that altered life for many of our state's residents. We grouped their 76 suggestions under the 10 themes in the DPI standards, and then listed them on an online ballot.

In May we contacted more than 14,000 educators around the state through direct mail, conference exhibits, professional newsletters, and listservs. We encouraged them to discuss these pivotal events with their students and then take their kids to the school library to cast votes online. We also publicized the voting outside the classroom through emails, local newspapers, radio call-in shows, broadcast media, and Web site postings.

During May more than 4,000 people came to the site cast and more than 100,000 votes. The ballot and the vote totals are available here. We also heard suggestions about how the site should work from elementary and secondary teachers, students of all ages, newspaper columnists, educational consultants, university professors, local historians, and private citizens from Racine to Bayfield.

Building the Digital Collection

In June 2004, we began identifying rare books, manuscripts, museum objects, photographs, maps, and other historical records that illustrate the events people told us they wanted to learn about. We also included some events that didn't get many votes in order to preserve balance: with most of the state's population in the south, for example, there was a risk that historical events from the northern part of the state might be neglected. We wanted to make sure that the final collection presented a well-rounded and balanced view of our common heritage.

Over the summer, we began to select, digitize and index documents from the Society's collections. We began to write lesson plans and create classroom activities to go along with each event, and to write a short interpretive essay about each. These essays connect the documents about Wisconsin history to national narratives in standard textbooks. We carefully designed the architecture of the site so that it would be easy to browse and read entire documents one at a time, or simply to extract isolated bits of information by searching everything all at once. We also were careful to design the infrastructure so a search on Google, AOL or Yahoo! would be likely to deliver students into Turning Points whenever appropriate.

Technical Specifications

Capture: Printed pages from books were typically scanned at 400 dpi, bitonal mode; printed illustrations in them were scanned in color when suitable. Manuscripts and original historical photographs were usually captured at 300 dpi, color. Microfilm (sometimes original documents existed only on 35mm microfilm) was usually scanned at 300 dpi. Photographs of museum objects generally began with digital camera shots taken in recent years for other purposes, under a wide variety of resolutions. Reference books, modern photos of historic places, reference maps, lesson plans, and other materials that support use of the primary sources were generally captured at lower resolution, in bitonal mode, or simply converted from born-digital formats such as Word documents.

Conversion: Original documents were first saved in TIF format, and minimally corrected for alignment, speckling etc. using Adobe Photoshop. They were then processed down for screen presentation using Debabelizer. The primary documents were converted to JPG for viewing, and the supporting documents (lesson plans, reference maps, etc.) to PDF for easy printing.

Indexing and Metadata: Printed texts were OCR'd using OmniPage Pro; manuscripts were transcribed by being read aloud and typed from the dictation. Neither form of these electronic texts was painstakingly edited; they are intended primarily to facilitate searching and retrieval, and the image of the original page should always be taken as the authoritative text. Metadata was applied only to the entire document, in the case of books, pamphlets, articles and other compound objects. Subject terms based on LCSH were adapted from those already in use in other Society digital collections, particularly our online photograph collection at Searches of the OCR and the metadata are executed in ContentDM 3.7.

Presentation: Images of digitized documents are viewed in ContentDM. The Web site a whole was designed at the Society by the project team, to harmonize with the Society's other Web pages and digital collections. Each "turning point" has a home page on which its various elements (explanatory essay, links to primary sources, lesson plans, etc.) are brought together from a central Oracle database. Each digitized document also has a home page, in part to show its basic bibliographic data but also to create a static page that Google and other search engines retrieve when users seek a particular text on the Web.


  • Matt Coan, lesson plans
  • Michael Edmonds, project concept
  • James Ellis, user interface
  • Andrew Gough, image capture and conversion
  • Paul Hedges, technology director
  • Erika Janik, project coordinator
  • Melissa McLimans, research and metadata
  • David Schowengerdt, database design
  • June Shoemaker, lesson plans
  • Denna Brazy, image capture
  • Jonathan Cooper, metadata
  • Eunha Joun, image capture
  • Heather Richmond, image capture and conversion
  • Melissa Eisenberg, image capture
  • Russell Michalak, image capture
  • Ben Hoganson, research and writing

Special Thanks to:

  • Michael Gordon, Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, project design
  • Kori Oberle, Educational Communications Board, project design
  • Bobbie Malone, WHS Office of School Services, project design
  • Jennifer Kolb, State Historical Museum, content selection
  • John Broihahn, acting state archeologist, content selection, research and writing
  • Ann Koski, State Historical Museum, content selection
  • Michael Douglas, director of Villa Louis Historic Site, photographs
  • Paul Bourcier, State Historical Museum, content selection
  • Kelly Hamilton, State Historical Museum, content selection
  • Harry Miller, WHS Library-Archives, content selection
  • Jim Hansen, WHS Library-Archives, content selection
  • Amber Ensign, WHS Library-Archives, research
  • Andy Kraushaar, WHS Library-Archives, capture and conversion
  • John Friend, WHS Library-Archives, capture and conversion
  • Amy Roseborough, State Archeologist's office, research and writing
  • Rose Edmonds, assistance with texts in French
  • Timm Severud, Lac Court Oreilles Tribal Preservation Office, content selection
  • Michael Derr, CESAG, advice and support
  • Joshua Ranger, UW-Oshkosh, advice and support
  • Stephen Kercher, UW-Oshkosh, advice and support
  • the 50 staff of cultural institutions around the state who advised us about topics to cover
  • the 3,656 people around the state who cast more than 100,000 votes in May of 2004 to advise us about which events to document on the site.
  • Questions about this page? Email us
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