Understories

Understories are short essays about how we researched the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee or that expand on an idea in the main body of an entry. We call them Understories because they are located after the main text of an entry and because they show some of the intellectual foundations of the main text. If you are reading an entry and there is a book icon under the “Explore More” button after the “For Further Reading” suggestions, click on the plus (+) sign to get access to the Understory and other additional content. Or you can click on the titles or the words “Read more” below.

Showing 21-32 of 32 understories

Researching Grand Avenue

When I began researching Grand Avenue, my first stop, of course, was the Golda Meir Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. From previous experience, I knew the stacks section around the call number F589 had shelves full of books on the history of Milwaukee. So I went up to the third floor of the west wing in search of anything even vaguely related to my topic. Scanning through the pile of literature I amassed, I… Read more

Researching Laura J. Ross Wolcott

Laura J. Ross Wolcott’s life has been frequently if imperfectly documented, and our entry reflects the ambiguities in the source material. A good example is a piece in the Wisconsin State Journal, headlined, “Laura Ross Wolcott (1834-1915),” which then leads with the sentence, “Wolcott was born in Maine in 1826.” As was common at the time, she was also known by her married name, “Mrs. E. B. Wolcott,” as well as “Laura J. Ross.” That… Read more

Researching Paul Grottkau

For years, I had known a bit about Paul Grottkau and his role in Milwaukee, particularly as it related to the Bay View Massacre of May 5, 1886. My knowledge, however, was a bit sketchy and once I began looking up information, I became fascinated with him. Born into an aristocratic family in Germany in 1846, he had planned to be an architect and as was typical in the day that meant working on construction… Read more

Sailing the Uncharted Waters of History

Working as a fact-checker for the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee through UWM’s Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship program has given me a very exciting opportunity. I am able to really dive into historical research outside of a classroom setting. While fact-checking may not be on the frontlines of the research process tracking down and interpreting primary documents or authoring specific entries for the Encyclopedia, it plays a critical role in ensuring the accuracy of the information in… Read more

Socialism in the United States

At the start of the twentieth century, German sociologist Werner Sombart posed the question: “Why is there no socialism in America?” Since then, historians have implicitly engaged Sombart in this debate. Historians who support Sombart’s thesis posit that socialism never existed in the United States because domestic socialism bore little relation to the fundamental Marxian mandate for sweeping institutional reform. See Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952… Read more

Street Naming and Numbering Understory

The primary resource for converting pre-1930 addresses to the new address system is Wright’s Street Guide Supplement Directory of Milwaukee for 1930 (Milwaukee: Alfred G Wright, 1931). The Supplement is alphabetical by street name. Copies are accessible to researchers at the Milwaukee Central Public Library and the Milwaukee County Historical Society. The Society also makes it available at their website on the Street Conversions page (http://www.milwaukeehistory.net/street-name-conversion/). A researcher looking for the new address that corresponds… Read more

The Challenge of Writing about a Milwaukee Icon

The author with Frank Zeidler Writing about Frank Zeidler for the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee was an honor and a challenge. An honor because I knew him the last eleven years of his life (1995-2006), and a challenge because much needed to be said. What to put in the entry, and what to leave out? That was my research challenge. Frank was a friend, mentor, and collaborator. We spent many hours discussing politics, transportation, leadership, Milwaukee… Read more

The Man Who Built MGIC: An Oral History with Max Karl

Conducting historical research is a lot like a treasure hunt. Both historians and treasure hunters spend hours following leads, deciphering clues, and digging. There is a lot of digging. Sometimes, that digging turns up marvelous things that are not quite what you were looking for, but that are wonderful all the same. When I was researching the MGIC Investment Corporation, I found one of these unexpected gems. In 1990, Max Karl, the founder of MGIC… Read more

Uncovering Historical Inaccuracies

When Americans write local history, they often highlight the name of the first white settler as the founder of the area. In Southeastern Wisconsin, they also tend to mention the location of the first mill and maybe even a side street that used to be a plank road. These core pieces of information are generally the most well researched and well documented pieces of local history. Local historical societies and libraries are assumed to be… Read more

Writing about Workers’ Movements in Milwaukee

The development of this entry was an interesting challenge: how do I channel nearly 175 years of a vibrant, complex and fascinating movement of people into about six pages of type? Whether I have successfully done so, it’s hard to say. Many will be disappointed by what was left out; others will question what was included. The main point of the entry was to show the importance of workers’ movements in the making of the… Read more

Writing History as It Happens: The Johnson Controls-Tyco Merger

When I am not writing for the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, I spend a good amount of time working on my MA thesis. My thesis research centers on the Singer Sewing Machine Company’s Russian subsidiary, a business similar in some ways to the businesses I research for the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee. But, owing to the Russian Revolution, Singer’s Russian business was relegated to a dimly understood past in the history books. Many of the businesses in… Read more

Writings about Episcopalians in Wisconsin

The single most inclusive work that details the history of the Episcopal Church in the State of Wisconsin and the Diocese of Milwaukee is Harold Ezra Wagner’s The Episcopal Church in Wisconsin 1847-1947: A History of the Diocese of Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Diocese of Milwaukee, 1947). A history of the Episcopal Church in Wisconsin from the early 1820s to 1847 can be found in John N. Vogel’s “The Episcopal Church in Wisconsin: 1822-1847” (Master’s thesis, University… Read more