Recollection Wisconsin: A Digital Trip Through State History

Oct. 18, 2016
Google plus Linkedin Pinterest

Earlier this summer, Recollection Wisconsin, a partnership of historical and cultural resources and archives in the state, joined the Digital Public Library of America, adding some 400,000 photographs, maps, books, and other records (many accessible in digital formats) to the DPLA’s online collections. The effort was a massive undertaking, the result of three years of planning and development. People can now access the wealth of nearly 200 Wisconsin collections via the DPLA website.

This is big news for those interested in local and state history. While digital and online resources are an essential asset to scholars, authors, and genealogists (as well as those who just enjoy browsing), the issue of accessibility – being able to actually search through the masses of material efficiently – often complicates the process. In unifying the state’s largest collections and joining with the DPLA, a major step forward has been made in not only preserving, but properly presenting the materials that will help future generations tell our local stories.

Browsing through the Wisconsin collection, I’ve selected some topics and categories of interest to Milwaukeeans that might open up some rabbit holes and give you a taste of what the DPLA has to offer.

Milwaukee Fire Department, Fire Prevention Bureau collection

“Flyers on a Dilapidated Building”


From a collection of city photographs held by the Milwaukee Public Library, this series of 341 images was made in the 1930s and early 1940s. Some are pictures of burned buildings, but many are of structures that the Fire Department considered to be danger of burning (some building inspection photos are also included). Highlighting old storefronts, abandoned properties, shacks, and substandard housing, this is a look at a much different Milwaukee than will appears in most collections of published images. If you’re bored to death with photos of stately mansions and city parks, these images give a peek into parts of the city that have been largely forgotten.


Milwaukee Journal “Remember When…” Series

“Remember When the Memorial Center Looked Like This?”

Starting in 1963, the Milwaukee Journal began running a series of photos and reminisces on the city’s history, imploring readers to “Remember when…” The images and research materials for the long-running series is now held at the downtown Library and over 500 of the entries are available online via the DPLA. Topics like “Remember When Milwaukee had Pedestrian Tunnels?,” “Remember when Newsboys Wore Knickers?,” and “Remember When the Oriental Theater was New?” are all preserved here. By their nature, these entries are much more nostalgic than academic, but they are surprisingly addictive. Each photo comes with the original text that accompanied it in the Journal.


Kwasniewski Collection – Baseball

“Kosciuszko Reds vs. Peters Union Giants Game”

Part of UW-Milwaukee’s “Milwaukee Polonia” archive, which contains 32,000 images made of Milwaukee’s Polish community between the 1900s and 1940s by photographer Roman Kwasniewski, this collection presents an incredible look at amateur and semi-pro baseball on Milwaukee’s South Side. Many of the images are of the Kosciuszko Reds, “the sporting pride of the Polish South Side in the second decade of the century,” per UWM Professor Neal Pease, who has done extensive research on the squad. Included among these images is a series of photos from a 1912 game between the Reds and Negro League Union Giants. Click here for an engaging history of that game, written by Pease for the Wisconsin Magazine of History in 2007.  


Are you upset by the way the NFL and the team owners have treated Colin Kaepernick?

Getting poll results. Please wait...