Summer students report from the field

This summer, Recollection Wisconsin partnered with the Material Culture Program at UW-Madison to provide hands-on learning opportunities for five undergraduate Summer Service Learners at area historical societies and museums. This summer marked the seventh year of this successful program, which has now offered 22 students the chance to gain valuable experience in applied learning at host sites throughout Wisconsin. Both students and hosts benefit greatly from these opportunities: the students gain real-world work experience and put the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to practical use, and the host organizations receive help with projects they may not otherwise have the time, staff, or other resources to complete. Thanks to grant funding provided by the Caxambas Foundation, the students receive honoraria for their work, which means they’re able to commit to their projects without sacrificing summer income.

UW-Madison undergrad Mara Champagne at the Koshkonong Prairie Historical Society.

UW-Madison undergrad Mara Champagne at the Koshkonong Prairie Historical Society.

The Service Learners came from across campus and tackled a diverse array of local projects. Mara Champagne (majoring in Art History and Scandinavian Studies) worked with the Koshkonong Prairie Historical Society in Cambridge to establish an inventory system for the Society’s collections, research objects, write exhibit labels, and give guided tours to museum visitors. As site supervisor Janice Redford put it, Mara also “brought the Society into the 21st century” by creating a Koshkonong Prairie Facebook page and teaching local volunteers how to use it.

Laura Sevelis (majoring in Art History and Zoology) put her previous experience working with the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection to good use at the Oregon Area Historical Society, where she cataloged and rehoused an extensive costume collection and wrote guidelines to assist museum volunteers with the future care of textiles.

Ally Hrkac (majoring in Secondary Education-English Language Arts) developed online exhibits and educational resources for Recollection Wisconsin. She conducted research, selected images, and wrote text and captions for web features focusing on three slices of Wisconsin history and culture: memoir writing, farmers’ markets, and recreational use of Wisconsin’s lakes (coming soon!). She also developed guidelines and lesson plans for K-12 teachers to help them use Recollection Wisconsin’s primary sources to support the Common Core State Standards. These teaching resources will be made available online this fall.

Hadley Nelson (majoring in Art History, Classical Humanities, and Anthropology) partnered with the Hawks Inn Museum, an 1840s stagecoach inn located in Delafield, to create an inventory of museum collections. She also created a guided first-person tour told from the perspective of Fannie Hawks, describing her experiences as a young woman growing up at the Inn. Drama students at Kettle Moraine High School will use Hadley’s script to give interpretive tours of the Inn next summer.

Gianofer Fields (majoring in Art History) created her own project, building on her substantial background in radio production. She interviewed volunteers at Hawks Inn Museum and Oregon Area Historical Society, posing questions about what draws them to local history and the personal meanings that volunteering holds for them. Gianofer’s recorded oral histories capture the unique voices of the dedicated volunteers who make Wisconsin’s small local historical organizations run. These interviews will be posted online soon!

Visit the Material Culture Program blog at to read reports from each of the students on their summer experiences.

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