Student Staff Spotlight: Johnny Zagrodnik

Undergraduate student Johnny Zagrodnik has been working with the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee for over a year now, since Fall of 2017. Johnny, a double major in Film Studies and History, will be graduating in Spring 2019 and is busy applying to graduate schools. While he knows that he’d like to work in film and continue his studies in film history, Johnny also feels drawn to work in education, specifically teaching social studies in a high school.

Johnny works as Fact Checker for the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee. He also authored our entry on Grand Avenue. Johnny is well-suited for the tasks involved in fact checking because he has an eye for details and nuance and loves primary source research, which is a task that many others find tedious and time-consuming. In fact, Johnny is always excited when his fact-checking tasks require that he visit an archives, especially if it means sifting through microfilm. While he often must verify facts through archival research, Johnny’s job also requires that he think about communication and representation in historical writing. He explains, “Sometimes I have to look at how a sentence functions and whether it gets at the facts that it is representing.”

So, how did Johnny come to find an internship to which he is so well-suited? When he decided to look for an internship, he looked for one that would get him out of the classroom. He said, “I wanted to see how history is functioning in the ‘real world.’ I wanted to go beyond writing papers and participate in scholarship that the general public would see.” The Encyclopedia of Milwaukeet is uniquely positioned because it can be used by everyone: from student researchers, to community members, to professional historians. The broad scope of this project was attractive to Johnny, who believes that history can teach all people, not just students, how to think critically about their role in society and become more engaged in their communities.

Johnny is quick to share that this internship has been very important to his own academic work—it was through his work with the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee that Johnny found the topic for his capstone project.  More than that, it has helped him develop a specific approach to his scholarship and his voice as a writer. As Johnny explains, “I learned to think about how information and history needs to be translated to go to the public. I no longer think about writing a paper simply to be submitted to a professor, but rather I think about writing it in a way that it can be shared with the public…I take responsibility for writing work that can go beyond the university. In my view, writing a history should have some importance and meaning in the world.”

–Katie Stollenwerk


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