Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures Friends Newsletter, Vo. 1, No. 2, Fall 2003

At CSUMC, We Are What We Do

If you read the first issue of our Newsletter, you saw Jim Leary’s essay laying out the case for the value of our region as a real “center of the world.” We’re working hard to translate that idea of and commitment to “region” into a better understanding of the Upper Midwest, for residents and researchers alike.

Picture of CSUMC Co-Director Joe Salmons

We are, I suppose, what we do, and we’re probably working on projects that interest you. Concerned about documenting and preserving the rapidly disappearing barns of our region? Read about the Barn Survey Ruth Olson is working on, and the Barn Again traveling exhibit. Interested in how recent immigrants are faring in this region? We’re working with Milwaukee filmmaker Dan Banda to develop classroom materials to accompany his trilogy on Mexican-American immigration to the Upper Midwest, “After the Immigrant.” And with the Wisconsin Arts Board, we are helping the Madison Children’s Museum develop a traveling exhibit on Hmong Culture that will tour the United States. Our co-written “Field Guide to Local Culture” will soon be available as a resource for teachers and others through our Web site. Or maybe you’re fascinated by the stories people tell about weather. Jim Leary is working with folks in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, teachers from around the state, and others to gather and understand weather-related folklore. This newsletter and our last show the many ways the Center is exploring, preserving, and sharing the richness of everyday life.

Like these examples, virtually all our projects seem to begin and end beyond the boundaries of campus, and many are driven by the interests and concerns of communities, groups, and individuals outside the university. And important for whom we are in a literal sense; most of these projects are being carried out or at least led by Ruth Olson, our associate director, who is both the face and the heart of the Center.

Photo: Ruth Olson records a Hmong butcher in Green Bay during a cultural tour with school children from Madison
Ruth Olson records Vue Yang, the owner of Union Oriental Market in Sheboygan during a cultural tour
with Madison school children.

This is also a chance to say a word about how we got started. CSUMC joins two existing units within the College of Letters & Science: The Folklore Program and the Max Kade Institute (MKI). Under Jim Leary’s leadership, the Folklore Program has grown rapidly into a nationally known one, and the Center’s course offerings and traditional teaching are anchored there. The MKI was founded twenty years ago with a specific focus on the language and culture of German-speaking immigrants to North America and their descendants. Over time, it came to focus more and more on the broader context into which that particular immigrant culture fit, and we eventually came to see the need for a unit focused on ALL cultures of our region. Its role as a research and outreach center provides a useful link to Folklore, while Folklore provided MKI with a link to an academic program. At about this time, Jim Leary suggested that we apply for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities supporting the founding of regional centers around the country. We were successful at getting two such grants, which allowed us to hire Ruth Olson. Once we had hired Ruth, the rest, as they say, was history. The main grant from which the Center was founded was a “Challenge Grant,” meaning that we had to provide matching funds. That match came from a “cluster hire” to bring three new faculty to campus. Those hires are now in place, and this newsletter begins a series of features on our new colleagues.


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Last updated: August 11, 2003