The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Public History Project, formerly the “Sifting and Reckoning” exhibit at the Chazen Museum of art that was on display last fall, will become the new Rebecca M. Blank Center for Campus History.
In a Jan. 26 announcement, Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin discussed the purpose for the new center and its naming after former Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who was the commissioner of the original Public History Project.
“Naming the center after Chancellor Emerita Blank is a wonderful way to acknowledge and honor her central role in creating the Public History Project,” Mnookin said in the university release. “Chancellor Emerita Blank recognized that our campus, to move forward, needed to learn from and reckon with difficult aspects of its history. Her vision and leadership began this process, and with today’s announcement, we will continue that important work.”
Housed in the Division of Teaching and Learning, this initiative allows the work of the Public History Project to continue and influence other areas of the university, namely administrative decisions and campus curricula, according to Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning John Zumbrunnen.
“There is a real emphasis on making sure that the knowledge [from the Public History Project] is shared with the campus community in a way that will help all of us shape UW going forward,” Zumbrunnen said.
The Public History Project had an impact on campus curricula, Zumbrunnen said, adding that “For students to see that, for university leaders to be familiar with that history … That’s why we study history, to learn from it.”
Kacie Luchinni Butcher, director of the Public History Project, and Taylor L. Bailey, assistant director of the Public History Project, both shared their excitement for the transition to the new center.
Both said they are spending time during the spring semester gathering information on what the campus community would like to see from the new center.
“We will be hosting listening sessions with campus community members,” Bailey said. “We also have a survey going out to the general body to see what the community wants the center to do and how it can take what we learned from the Public History Project and how we can change the Center for Campus History based on that.”
Butcher and Bailey hope to incorporate elements of the exhibit that spoke to the 23,121 visits the museum logged during last fall’s “Sifting and Reckoning” exhibit.
“A lot of people were really interested in an honest look at the university’s past, it’s not something that we often have the opportunity to do,” Butcher said.
“The community members are so engrossed in the history of UW-Madison, so I think that this was a refreshing, different look and the history was very intriguing to many people,” Bailey added.
Due to the success of the Chazen exhibit, Zumbrunnen noted that many members of the campus community hoped the work of the new project would continue after the exhibit closed.
Although “Sifting and Reckoning” was a temporary exhibition, Butcher is working on possibly finding a permanent place for the exhibit. The interactive project website remains up while Butcher and Bailey pivot and gather input on the new center.
“Over the course of the fall, we heard from a lot of people expressing their hope that the work of the Public History Project would be continued. We have just seen a lot of interest, enthusiasm and engagement with the exhibit,” Zumbrunnen said.
Noe Goldhaber is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in campus and state news reporting.