Users’ Guide

The Encyclopedia of Milwaukee (EMKE) is a multifaceted digital resource designed for a range of researchers. Students, journalists, scholars, and the general public may all use it on their journeys into the histories of Milwaukee and its surrounding areas. This guide will help you understand the scope and structure of EMKE and explain the EMKE’s most important features.


The EMKE broadly defines the time and space of Milwaukee’s history. Although the City of Milwaukee was officially chartered by the State of Wisconsin in 1846, EMKE includes the natural and Indigenous histories of the previous millennia as integral to understanding the city. The EMKE traces changes and continuities in people, places, and events over time up to the project’s official launch in 2020. Expanding the city’s timeline in such ways challenges the progress and declension narratives commonly associated with Great Lakes (“Rust Belt”) industrial cities, brings environmental change into the foreground, and offers a more complete picture of who has a place in Milwaukee’s history.

Contextualization is key to historical knowledge. When we planned the EMKE, we followed the lead of urban historians who argued that understanding a central place, or city, requires considering its hinterland. Therefore, EMKE defines Milwaukee as not only the space within the political boundaries of the city proper (and the changes in these boundaries over time), but also the four-county Milwaukee metropolitan area as defined by the United States government: Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha counties. Every legally-recognized municipality (town, village, and city) within these four counties has its own entry. The EMKE additionally includes some consideration of the nearby Kenosha, Racine, Sheboygan, and Walworth counties, although individual municipalities within these counties do not have their own entries. This broadly-defined area captures the diversity and interdependencies of urban and rural communities, the historical flows of people to and from cities (i.e., urbanization and suburbanization), and the different ways people have used land over time and space.

Within the city of Milwaukee, many neighborhoods also have their own entries. However, as explained in the Neighborhoods entry, Milwaukee has never had a universally recognized neighborhood system. The problem of developing a systematic neighborhood map for Milwaukee is exacerbated by city’s frequently changing boundaries, which expanded across the twentieth century. Because of this potentially confusing situation, the EMKE Editorial Board decided to commission entries only for neighborhoods recognized by a broad consensus of authorities. You may well use the name of a present or historical neighborhood that is not covered in the EMKE.

We asked our authors to research and write about their topics in Milwaukee, suburban, and rural contexts whenever possible. The EMKE relies on a rich and growing foundation of scholarship on Milwaukee and its surrounding areas. However, for some contexts, much more extensive work is needed before an encyclopedia entry can be commissioned in a practical fashion. Consider for example, the EMKE entry on Garbage. Built on the scholarly expertise of historian Kate Foss, the entry mentions suburban-located dumping grounds for Milwaukee’s waste. Developing a comprehensive understanding how suburban communities handled their own waste might require additional years of research. We hope that the EMKE entries will illuminate the strengths and limits of existing scholarship and inspire new generations of historians to carry these topics further.


As a digital project, EMKE employs multiple organizing methodologies. First, the EMKE follows the standard encyclopedic practice of cataloging entries in alphabetical order by title. Users can find all entries from “9to5” to the “Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts” in the A-Z Table of Contents. The names of people are listed with their last name first (Aaron, Henry), and municipalities with their place name first (Addison, Town of). Second, the EMKE also organizes its content by subject, based on the rubrics or subject areas originally defined by our Editorial Board in 2011 (see About the Encyclopedia). Users can browse entries according to their primary subject areas, from “Arts and Culture” to “Transportation, Infrastructure, and Public Services,” in our “Browse by Subject” page. This organizing method offers users a platform for understanding the relational dynamics between people, places, and events in the city’s past. Not all people, places, and things in Milwaukee’s past received their own full entry but may be represented in the narratives of other thematic or related entries. If you do not find a particular person, place, or thing in the Table of Contents, you may use our search feature at the top of the page or through the “Advanced Search” tool located under the “Entries” tab.

Types of Entries

The EMKE contains nearly 700 entries of two types: specialized and thematic. Specialized entries describe the historical details and contexts of specific people, places, organizations, institutions, and events in Milwaukee’s past. These entries range in length from 250 to around 1,500 words, depending on the topic’s significance, scope, and the amount of available information. Thematic essays reflect on and interpret major topics, time periods, and themes in Milwaukee’s past—based on prevailing scholarship. These longer entries range from 2,000 to 3,000 words. Regardless of length, every entry is followed by the author’s full name.


Every EMKE entry is documented with footnotes. This feature can be made visible by clicking the plus sign (+) next to “Footnotes” at the bottom of the entry. These citations provide a deep look into the resources our authors used to craft their entry narratives. Whenever possible, we embedded direct links to cited digital sources. However, there were some instances when these links no longer worked after the authors consulted them—either the site was moved or removed. In some instances, we were able to correct the link. In the case of the Google News Archives’ holdings of the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel, however, we spelled out the broken URL to offer our users a roadmap to microfilm versions of the source; you can read more about how to interpret those links in “Deciphering the Google News URL.” When we update an entry, the date of the change is annotated at the beginning of the first footnote.

Another key innovation in EMKE’s pursuit of transparency is the development of what we call “Understories.”Understories are essays that explain where the EMKE’s content and interpretations came from, describe challenges in the research process, and highlight the complexities of producing historical knowledge. Readers can find a complete listing of Understories under the “Entries” tab of the EMKE site and through the Advanced Search function. Understories also accompany specific entries and can be found by clicking “Explore More” at the bottom of these entries.

Additional Tools and Resources

Several additional tools and resources accompany our entries to help our users advance their inquiries into Milwaukee history. Cross-references, indicated by blue text embedded in the body of our entries, link to other EMKE entries that relate to that particular word or topic. Topically-related entries are also listed in the “See Also” section at the bottom of each entry. Some entries contain recommendations for further reading listed under the entry’s text and footnotes. Furthermore, EMKE offers researchers a digital bibliography of Milwaukee history sources under the “Bibliography” tab. This bibliography is an extension of our printed Bibliography of Metropolitan Milwaukee, comprised of additional sources we have found since that volume’s publication in 2014. Also at the bottom of many entries is an option to view locationally specific entries on a contemporary map of Milwaukee by clicking “View Location on Map.” The complete map with all location pins is available through the “Location Search” tool located under the “Entries” tab. Up to five images and maps accompany each entry. A featured image can be found alongside the entry’s text. All additional images and maps can be found by clicking the “Explore More” button at the bottom of the entry. Captions and sourcing information accompany all images and can be accessed by clicking on the image. All images and maps can also be found and browsed by subject under the “Media” and “Maps” tabs at the top of the EMKE site and through the search function.

Citing Entries

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition, 14.234, recommends inclusion of the following elements in citations to particular entries in reference works: author, name of entry, name of project, editors of project, host institution, date, and URL. For example, if you wanted to cite the EMKE entry on the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council in a Chicago-style bibliography, it should follow this pattern:

Squires, Gregory D. “Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council.” In Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, edited by Margo Anderson and Amanda I. Seligman. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2017.

User Comments

We invite EMKE users to reflect on and contribute to EMKE’s content and interpretations through the commenting function available at the bottom of each entry. To access this function, users must first register for an account. Public comments are moderated for civility and against spam. General comments and questions can also be submitted through the “Contact Us” form. These comments are important contributions to ongoing historical conversations and will inform possible future revisions to EMKE.

Joseph B. Walzer