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As a multi-ethnic metropolis on the Great Lakes known for its heavy industry, working-class politics, and festive culture, the Greater Milwaukee Area is a rich site for exploring urban, racial, economic, environmental, and political history in the United States. Since 2008, the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee has endeavored to chronicle these histories through authoritative entries on topics ranging from arts and culture to philanthropy and nonprofit organizations to business and labor. Documenting Milwaukee presents a new chapter in this journey.

Primary sources—documents, images, maps, material items, and recordings—are the building blocks of historical narratives, providing evidence of events, people, and places of the past. Documenting Milwaukee’s primary source curations offer a deeper look into some of the sources that help us tell the history of the Greater Milwaukee Area. Some sources complement the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee’s narratives, demonstrating or bolstering the arguments of our authors. Other sources might complicate or challenge these narratives, illustrating both the complexity of history and the state of Milwaukee as a continuously contested space.

Each Documenting Milwaukee primary source curation includes a high-quality digital version of the source, a discussion of the historical context in which it was created, and a critical analysis of the source’s contents and its significance to Milwaukee’s history. Furthermore, our curations provide links to relevant Encyclopedia of Milwaukee entries and suggest questions and resources for further discussion and research. 

While offering our users valuable digital access to the primary sources of the city’s history and insight into possible new avenues of research, Documenting Milwaukee’s curations provide our students with powerful professionalizing opportunities to develop meaningful pieces of public history. Supervised by partnering instructors and Encyclopedia of Milwaukee editors, students gain valuable experience exploring archival collections and cultivating source analyses for general audiences.

As a student-driven project, Documenting Milwaukee is both “evergreen” and dynamic. We will post new curations as our partnerships with students and instructors grow. The different ways in which sources pique the interests of our students will also shape our collection. The historical origins of racial segregation might captivate one student, while another might be drawn to the history of popular music or literature in Milwaukee. This may also be further influenced by specific assignments from partnering instructors.

UWM undergraduate and graduate students produced the first curations for Documenting Milwaukee in contexts sponsored by the university’s Office of Undergraduate Research. Students participating in the Support for Undergraduate Research Fellows program helped conceptualize the site and write the first curations. Students in History 450, The Growth of Metropolitan Milwaukee, a fall semester UWM Course-Based Research Project sponsored by OUR, are invited to share their curated primary sources with Documenting Milwaukee. If you are a student or an instructor who is interested in contributing to this project, please reach out to site editor Dr. Joseph Walzer through the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee Contact Us page. 

Join us on this new journey into the fine points of Milwaukee’s past!