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Settlement, Dispossession and Race in Rural and Urban Wisconsin and New York
Whose Land? aims to extend the successes and lessons of the award-winning Lands We Share (LWS) project in Wisconsin into a two-state New York-Wisconsin community history and public dialogue project.
While Lands We Share success rested in part on discovering the shared histories of specific sites of land to support dialogue across cultural divides – in both rural and urban spaces - Whose Land? will engage more directly with histories of land loss and dispossession in Wisconsin and New York to support direct reckoning with the legacies of what scholar Anne Bonds calls the “geographies of white supremacy.” Beginning with a community-based research phase that will include: assessing and curating existing publications, collections and artifacts on Black, Indigenous, and white presence in urban and rural spaces; conducting oral histories; engaging in genealogical work with local families and descendants of displaced families who have historical roots in featured locations. The project will include electronic and in-person community conversations framed around this community-based field research including artifact and family collections archiving and digitization workshops and story-sharing and shared findings public events. By fall 2022, the project will culminate by launching an online hub which will include a four-part podcast, a project blog and a story map. All aspects of content will be structured as conversations between community members and scholars and framed around specific geographical sites in four regions in Wisconsin and New York (one rural and one urban in each state) that tell poignant stories of settlement and displacement to reveal how race in the land has been foundational to narratives of belonging and as well as exclusion in America.
On Lands We Share
Whose Land? is an outgrowth of the Lands We Share Traveling Exhibition and Community Conversation Tour of the Wisconsin Farms Oral History Project. LWS circulated through Wisconsin in 2018-19 to foster cross-cultural collaboration by using formal and informal histories of land and farming to address racial, economic and rural-urban divisions in Wisconsin. The project focused on five diverse farm sites representing Oneida Indian, Hmong, African American, German-American and Latinx communities. "Flipping" the traditional exhibition by using a traveling display as a means to collect community input and frame conversations rather than as an educational end, LWS reached hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites through social and broadcast media and thousands directly. The project was honored nationally with an Award for Excellence from the American Association for State and Local History and the Elizabeth B. Mason Award from the Oral History Association and it received the Best Public Program award in Wisconsin from the Wisconsin Historical Society.
The successes of the Lands We Share project will provide a foundation for the project proposed here: A statewide network of project partners and followers, cultivated over six years, continues to support the project and has committed to participate in ongoing initiatives.