The Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures collaborative project at UW Milwaukee and Madison introduces an interdisciplinary research track concentrating on the examination of the physical, cultural, and social aspects of our built environment. The program serves students enrolled in the UW Milwaukee and Madison campuses respectively. It involves faculty members on both campuses with diverse research and teaching interests, including urban and architectural history, cultural landscapes, urban and rural vernacular architecture, public history, and environmental history.
Fieldwork is an important aspect of this program and a cross-campus fieldwork school is a special offering of this project. Each summer the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures field school provides students with an immersive experience in the field recording of the built environment and cultural landscapes and an opportunity to learn how to write history literally “from the ground up.” Students receive training in site documentation (including photography, measured drawings, digital documentation, audio-visual production), historic interpretation of buildings and landscapes (focusing on how to “read” buildings within its material, political, social, cultural and economic contexts), and primary source research (including oral history, archival research, architectural analysis).
What is Picturing Milwaukee?
We are storytellers, collecting and relaying tales of places and neighborhoods in Milwaukee. We call this idea “Picturing Milwaukee” and our objective is to conjure up –or picture– various neighborhoods of Milwaukee like designs in a wonderfully complex quilt. Individually unique and beautiful, each street is part of a larger whole and we are interested in examining how the local and the urban relate to each other – how a street fits into a larger urban narrative. Understanding this relationship between the whole and its parts is important because it shows us how individual places produce our larger world. We are the sum total of smaller units. Such an understanding promotes civic belonging and allows us to reimagine ourselves as stewards of our worlds.
Why do we tell stories? Stories are powerful not only because they connect and transfix, not only because they are accessible to all, but also because they spread. Stories produce more stories; transferred from one person to another, stories disperse across time and space. Stories produce revolutions – not the kinds that we saw in 1789 and 1917 in France and Russia or the campaign for free speech that set campuses on fire in 1964; not even the kinds we saw recently in 2011 at Tahrir Square or the Wisconsin State Capitol – although those too are born of stories of resistance and intrigue. We collect stories about morals and ethics, ones that recount honor and perseverance, or those that our neighbors and community members communicate to us – all with a moral at the end of it. We are interested in stories that become part of our speech and imaginations; stories that teach us how to behave and react to life and how to walk and to talk – those stories that in turn gently transform who we are and what we do.
The 2015 field school participants, mentors and collaborators.