With support from the Caxambas Foundation, the Material Culture Program is sponsoring three undergraduate service learning opportunities this summer. Each student has partnered with a local historical society in Wisconsin to help them digitize and share their collections through Wisconsin Heritage Online, a statewide digitization program. Our first progress report this summer comes from Breanna Norton, a recent graduate of the Anthropology department.
For this service learning internship I am working with the Three Lakes Historical Society in northern Wisconsin to digitize a portion of their collection for the Wisconsin Heritage Online database. TLHS is a small historical society in the heart of the Northwoods, and this internship is an exciting opportunity to place a portion of their collection online for the wide world to access. Three Lakes is essentially a tourist town, so it population fluctuates greatly depending on the season, affecting how many people visit TLHS’s museum. By allowing the museum to be a part of the WHO database, their possible audience has increased tremendously and that can only lead to positive results for the Historical Society.
I began my internship with absolutely no idea of what I would be digitizing. I spent about a week during the beginning of June inventorying the Historical Society’s archival and artifact collections, attempting to get a picture of the possible topics that could be covered in the database. After talking with the curator of the Historical Society museum, Mr. Alan Tulppo, and discussing the most asked-after topics by visitors I decided to focus my project on the history of camps and resorts in the Three Lakes area. The history of Three Lakes follows a very distinct pattern that can be found throughout Northwoods Wisconsin. The lumber industry was the main industry in the region during the late 19th-early 20th centuries, after which farming took over. Once farming began to wane, tourism flooded Three Lakes until just after the mid-20th century. Three Lakes is currently in a retirement and vacation home phase in which the area is dominated either by individuals who have decided to retire in the Northwoods or who are wealthy enough to own a vacation home up north. My focus is on the third phase: tourism. In order to make my project more manageable, I chose to spend the first half of my three-month time period working on the resort portion of the project, specifically focusing on the Northernaire Resort and Spa—the most popular and luxurious resort in the Three Lakes area.
Once I made my final object list regarding the Northernaire portion of the project, Emily Pfotenhauer, the Outreach Specialist for Wisconsin Heritage Online, brought to my attention that some of the published materials may be under copyright law and that I should spend some time researching this possible problem. I searched the internet and the library for who, if anyone, I should contact for permission to put these materials online. Fortunately, every company that printed the postcards was no longer around, and as such I concluded that putting the objects online should pose no problem. Those items that were printed or created by the Northernaire Resort and Spa I decided needed to be inquired about, along with each newspaper article. I talked with numerous editors and managers and much to my surprise I had no difficulty in gaining everyone’s permission to reproduce the objects online. It seems that local history, and being a part of it, is of interest to everyone. Finally, with the copyright problem resolved, I was able to move on to scanning and creating spreadsheets for the database.
I have been fortunate enough to have had a diverse array of experiences completing object research for material culture classes and internships, and those experiences have been extremely helpful with this particular project. Rather than focus solely on the use of written sources like I have in the past, I have had to rely on human sources for many dates and names. This change in technique has been a welcome one and has broadened my ideas on how to conduct research and what types of resources are available to the researcher. The use of human sources may seem unreliable to many researchers, but given the research topic they may be the best source available.
I have almost completed my spreadsheet regarding the first half of the project, the Northernaire. Once I have completed it I will begin work on the history of summer camps in the Three Lakes area. I am confident that through this internship I will not only be learning new ways of applying material culture studies to the museum field, but I will also be providing a vital service to a museum that otherwise may never have such an opportunity.