Cody Schreck is a busy graduate student, working to complete not only an MA in Public History but also two certificates—one in museum studies and the other in nonprofit management. Despite his schedule, Cody was eager to join the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee project. Born and raised just outside of Milwaukee in Lake Country, Cody is interested in local history both personally and academically and also knew the project would provide many instructive opportunities.
Like many graduate students in history, Cody’s academic interests have always been very interdisciplinary; for his undergraduate degree he majored in history and had a double minor in geography and sociology. As Cody explains it, all of his coursework was tied up in a passion and commitment to education. In fact, as an undergraduate, he had first planned to declare an education major because he wanted to become a social studies teacher. He has since come to understand that his vocational calling is in museum curation and administration, but Cody believes this calling is still firmly rooted in a desire to teach. As he phrases it, teaching and museum work alike are about “making history immediate to people.” In fact, Cody believes that in many ways, “my impact can be greater at a cultural institution than at a school because at a museum, you’re not limited by curricular guidelines. For example, at a cultural institution you have more creative freedom and you are able to reach a broader audience.”
The Encyclopedia of Milwaukee is a great project for a student interested in public history and museum curation because so many of the skills learned on the project translate to skills needed in those fields. Cody was originally hired to do fact-checking in the summer of 2018 and since then has stayed on as a graduate research assistant. Because his work is varied, Cody jokes, “I think of myself as the swiss army knife of the project.” One day, Cody might be conducting research for the entry he is authoring on murals, the next he might be compiling statistical tables about the landfills in the greater Milwaukee area. He still does a fair amount of fact checking, which to many may initially sound like a dry task, but as Cody describes fact-checking it’s about solving a mystery and he is the detective. For example, his most recent mystery involved deciphering historical truth from local lore in the settlement history of Elm Grove. He explains, “The dates of original settlement had made it through our first round of fact-checking but then later triggered some alarms. The reason these dates hadn’t initially raised any questions is that although they turned out to be historically inaccurate, they were a part of generally accepted lore in the area. So, I went on a journey to discover how and when these settlement stories had come about and also how they came to be accepted as true.” Stay tuned, because the process of discovering all this will be published as an Understory to the entry!
These types of research “rabbit holes” are precisely what makes this type of work so engaging for Cody. He enjoys being introduced to topics outside of his expertise and getting to delve into strands of history he was previously unfamiliar with. He fell into another interesting research rabbit hole when fact-checking the Spiritualists entry, “I wasn’t familiar with the Morris Pratt Institute, which was a college for Spiritualists originally located in Whitewater. I found myself fascinated by this little college I’d previously known nothing about because there were interesting aspects with regard to the occult, spirituality, and again, local lore. It was a completely unexpected twist on what I’d expected to find in that entry.” It’s precisely this type of enthusiasm for deep-digging and determination when faced with roadblocks that are vital in a project such as the Encyclopedia because one of the major challenges can be tracking down sources for abstract or lesser-known historical topics. Cody explains that there are a lot of sources still not digitized and finding sources to verify certain facts can take a lot of footwork.
But Cody sees this all as great practice and professional training. Cody’s specialty is regional history—specifically the history of Greater Milwaukee and Environmental History—so everything he does for the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee not only aids his academic work but also builds his professional expertise. And, Cody believes that this research assistantship has trained him to scrutinize sources more than ever, “I’m no longer satisfied with secondary sources until I’ve evaluated the authority behind them and verified the primary sources within them.” Beyond developing his professional skills, Cody has become incredibly passionate about sharing the the project with the public. Like many involved in the project, Cody hopes to see it the site used by more than just students and historians for research because it’s an interesting platform for residents to engage in historical storytelling also. Cody encourages more people to take a look at it and play around with the site, “The Encyclopedia of Milwaukee has the potential to make history immediate to a wide base. You might not think it’s about you, but it is! Local history is relevant; everywhere history is immediately relevant. And the encyclopedia is created in a way that makes our local history really engaging and moving.”