The University of Wisconsin-Madison will begin the Rebecca M. Blank Center for Campus History on July 1 as a continuation of a campus-wide Public History Project, which has been operating for the past four years.
As UW-Madison’s Public History Project comes to a close, the Rebecca M. Blank Center for Campus History will make its debut as a continuation of the project and a step toward implementing the university’s history into UW-Madison courses and curriculum.
The center is named for the late Chancellor Emerita Rebecca Blank, who led UW-Madison for nine years and oversaw the Public History Project during her tenure.
The Public History Project explored the stories of “those who experienced and challenged bigotry and exclusion on campus,” according to its website. The multi-year research project culminated in a Chazen Art Museum exhibit, “Sifting and Reckoning,” which was open to the public last fall.
The project will conclude on July 1, with the Rebecca M. Blank Center for Campus History launching the same day, said John Zumbrunnen, UW-Madison vice provost for teaching and learning.
The new center will build on the work of the Public History Project, Zumbrunnen said. It will be housed in the Division for Teaching and Learning and directly connect to campus-wide teaching practices.
“[I’m] most excited about the ways in which what we learn about the history of this place can be present in classes,” Zumbrennen said.
According to Public History Project Director Kacie Lucchini Butcher, an initial center staff meeting was held on May 24 to discuss months of listening sessions across campus. Zumbrunnen said these listening sessions allowed project staff to hear from organizations across campus.
The center’s establishment is a point of pride for Zumbrunnen. In his view, the full time three-person staff and support from UW-Madison students have helped make the center a unique entity.
Zumbrunnen highlighted contributions UW-Madison students made to the center’s development, including participating in research through the university’s archives, brainstorming discussion questions for listening sessions and creating blog posts to spark excitement.
“It is how an educational institution ought to proceed,” Zumbrunnen said. “I always found it really, really powerful to have students learn about, engage with [and] discuss the history of student activism and protest on this campus.”
The work of the Blank Center for Campus History will also set an example for other universities and institutions, according to Zumbrunnen. While other universities have explored parts of their past, he said UW-Madison’s years-long exploration of its entire history sets it apart from other institutions.
Zumbrunnen said the center connects not only to campus history but history in the United States as a whole, adding that UW-Madison and its history is a “microcosm” of the nation’s history.
The center will continue to develop as Lucchini Butcher and colleagues work to implement it on campus.
“[The center presents] an incredibly wonderful opportunity to learn not just about this campus but more broadly about history,” Zumbrunnen said.
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 1:17p.m. on Sunday, June 11 to clarify that the Rebecca M. Blank Center for Campus History will not be a physical center on campus.