Thursday, August 5, 2010

Test Your Wisconsin History Skills with Erika Janik on September 8th

I've lived in Wisconsin a long time, but I still feel like there are gaps in my Badger knowledge. So when a customer several weeks ago encouraged me to read Erika Janik's A Short History of Wisconsin, I listened. We'd already booked an event with Janik (Wednesday, September 8th), so there was incentive right there. But Mr. W. (a long-time customer who reads regional and Catholic history and I would run into on the 15 bus between bouts of helping him as a customer all the way back to the years when I worked on the floor of the Schwartz Iron Block store) told me that not only was the book well written, but had some facts that even he didn't know.

The book is organized by chronologically, but also by subject. I'm sure there's a tendency to be a little Madison-centric (The Historical Society's home base). I also find a lot of state books (like the state, sometimes) tend to be a little negative about Milwaukee. I thought Janik's book was quite balanced.

There are a lot of positives with being a short history. I wasn't intimidated about reading it, for example. On the other hand, there were some things I wish had been included. There are several mentions of Allis-Chalmers (which makes sense, as it was the largest company in the Milwaukee area) and Case, but Hamilton Beach, the Racine company that decamped to North Carolina years ago? Why them and not Oster or West Bend? Where's Kohler, a strong influence on the state? And a talk about Wisconsin baseball without mentioning some of the minor league teams? I would have been more Madison-centric in this case and mentioned the Muskies.

In the spirit of Mr. W. (who loves this kind of thing), let's all read the book ahead of time and bombard Ms. Janik with what was missing. She'll love that!

Just kidding of course. This book is terrific for any resident who didn't grow up here and have a local history course in grade school. I myself had the New York course, including a special section on Queens. We were taught that Flushing was named after the Dutch town Vlissingen, but apparently, that is now in dispute.

Here's a short quiz, based on things I learned in A Short History of Wisconsin.

1. What metals were mined in Wisconsin enough to be substantial industries?
a. copper
b. gold
c. iron
d. lead
e. silver
f. tin

2. In the early years, Wisconsin was the second largest producer of automobiles outside of Michigan. Which car companies were based here?
a. Crosley
b. Kissel
c. Mitchell-Lewis
d. Nash
e. Studebaker

3. Which environmentalists had ties to Wisconsin?
a. Rachel Carson
b. Al Gore
c. Increase Lapham
d. Aldo Leopold
e. John Muir

See if you can take it without resorting to internet searches!

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