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Website collects and archives oral histories from 191 Milwaukee neighborhoods

For the past 20 years, over 100 volunteer anthropologists and anthropology interns have been collecting oral histories of Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Studies on 104 neighborhoods have been completed or are in progress. The oral histories include historical information on population migrations, institutions, leaders, and leisure time activities. During the past three years, Urban Anthropology Inc. (UrbAn) has included these studies in a website entitled 191 Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Incorporating work from others

The website includes the following information on all 191 neighborhoods: neighborhood description, brief population-centered history, residents of the past (at times celebrities), business corridors of previous eras, interesting neighborhood features, current population demographics, recurring nearby outings (current), oral history quotes (where available), current photos, and a section inviting residents to contribute their own past photos. The neighborhood documents are currently being redesigned, geographic section by section, by an UrbAn volunteer artist.

The volunteers would not have been able to produce a website as comprehensive as this without the past work of historians in Milwaukee. They relied extensively on the valuable works of John Gurda and Carl Baehr.

Usefulness guided the effort

The volunteers wanted the website to be useful to local residents. The information was designed to be relevant to permanent neighborhood residents who wanted to learn a little more about where they lived as well as for people looking to change addresses who were seeking a good fit for their families or friends.

The website content focuses on neighborhood assets such as family-oriented activities in or near each neighborhood, photos of key institutions and backstreet areas, the price of housing, and residents’ assessment of their areas. The website also encourages Milwaukeeans to contribute old photos and additional information, or correct anything they find in error.

Future work of Urban Anthropology Inc.

The volunteer anthropologists at the organization are currently working on developing mini museums in a host of Milwaukee neighborhoods. Mystery writer Sienna Jacks (and former UrbAn anthropology volunteer) is currently engaged in writing a series of novels that take place in Milwaukee neighborhoods. She will be donating most of her royalties to the museum projects (Jacks has previously published the Tall House Series of mysteries). Currently, UrbAn volunteers are working with local residents and business leaders to ascertain the kind of museums that fit their areas. Neighborhoods currently under consideration for mini museums include Lincoln Village, Bronzeville, Sherman Park, Walker’s Point, Brady Street, and Granville.

The volunteers at Urban Anthropology Inc. are also looking to develop a website on 65 Milwaukee ethnic groups. Between 2000 and 2012, the volunteers conducted studies on each of these ethnic groups and have published books based on the studies (e.g., Strolling through Milwaukee’s Ethnic History, American Ethnic Practices in the Twenty-First Century: The Milwaukee study). The research data and other information will be incorporated into the new website, scheduled for launch in 2019 or 2020.

On May 4, 2019, Urban Anthropology will celebrate its 20-year anniversary with ethnic foods and community awards. The organization conducts only one fundraiser every ten years, and this is its second. The event will take place at the Urban Ecology Center Riverside Park branch.

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Lee Matz

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