Wisconsin 101: Our History in Objects is a collaborative public history project created through a partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison History Department, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life program.

Bowling featured on this 1964 cover of a special issue of Life Magazine devoted to Japan. Click to enlarge.

How did a Wisconsin lumber company get a monopoly on selling bowling pins to Japan?

We are a digital museum

At its core, this project invites non-professional historians to profile objects from their daily lives, and write short histories that contextualize those objects within local history, regional historical trends, and even international change.  With your help, we weave those histories together through maps and links. For example, if you begin by reading the history of a penguin server, you might discover yourself, a few clicks later, reading about the experiences of a Hmong refugee whose family resettled in La Crosse, or the windlass used by a former slave to mine lead in southwestern Wisconsin, or the man who created Dungeons & Dragons in Lake Geneva, WI.

The objects and stories featured on Wisconsin 101 cut across the diverse regional, cultural, economic, and political differences of our state, providing a rich sense of our shared heritage.

Created by you

We invite students, amateur historians, and all other Wisconsin residents to nominate objects from their daily lives or of local importance to be featured on the site as part of our digital museum. In addition to proposing new objects, authors also have the opportunity to write short related histories that contextualize that object within local history, regional historical trends, and even international change.

Once your story is posted, we refer it to Wisconsin Life, and selected ones are turned into radio segments that air across the state.

Everyone is invited to participate in building this interactive, public resource for exploring Wisconsin’s history and geography. Our project staff works closely with historians, archivists, WPR producers, and other experts to offer guidance as contributors identify new objects for submission and ultimately research and write the histories of those objects. Wisconsin 101 also partners with community organizations, museums, and teachers to make participation in the project as accessible as possible.

What can a glass soda bottle tell us about the history of tourism in the Northwoods?

Image from an early film showing a group of people wearing point blanket coats tossing another person in the air as part of a game.
photo of early Wisconsin lead miners operating a windlass

How can a wooden windlass used for lead mining help us understand the history of slavery in Wisconsin, a state where slavery was technically prohibited?

Please share your story!

Here are a few ways you can contribute to this project:

Propose an object: Is there an object connected to WI history that you think someone who write a post about? Let us know!

Choose an object: Interested in writing a post for us, but haven’t yet found the perfect object? Choose one from this list!

Write a post: Ready to start writing? Find instructions and inspiration for your post.