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Dusting Off the Old Blog

15 June 2012 | Category: Site News
a lone white blossom rises from the dull forest floor in early spring

It's been almost a year since I posted my last update. Rest assured that Acceity lives: I have more than one article in the works for the site this summer. I can't promise a date for these updates just yet, so you'll need to subscribe with RSS or Twitter, or just check back in a few days. A few years ago in a post much like this one, I wrote that I meant Acceity to be "a quiet stop along the Internet's equivalent of a winding country lane." That metaphor was probably pretentious, but to extend it for a moment, I fear by now the country lane has faded to an untended and overgrown footpath. I stay too busy to blog as much as I'd like.

The rest of the Internet, meanwhile, buzzes ahead. I waste too much good time online, and you likely do as well — especially if you still check this site after so many stagnant months (though I value your loyalty). Ironically our sleek wireless gadgets have only tethered us more closely than ever to our narrow routines. Rarely are we in any position to make use of the 24 hour news that we constantly crave from friends and reporters. The endless gaffes, polls, status changes, or distant disasters make no difference to our real lives. We follow these things for entertainment; they are the ultimate reality show, and we cheer and jeer the players from afar to pass the time. There is nothing wrong with this except that we could find greater pleasure in the work of true poets and artists and better inform ourselves by studying the broader national and global systems that truly impact our lives.

I know this is hopelessly trite, but while you're waiting for me to follow through on the next article here, join me in spending a little more time offline and unplugged. Walk over the prairies, crack open a book, visit a neighbor, travel to an unfamiliar place and stop at a park or museum along the way. We can learn more useful things about the world through any of these things than we ever will by staying fixed to the web's content mills and reloading the same old bookmarks. Close the browser and take just an hour or two to live.

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An Old Idea: Wisconsin and its University

7 September 2011 | Category: History
Birds Eye View of the University of Wisconsin campus at Madison, 1907
View of the University of Wisconsin campus at Madison in 1907 by H. D. Nichols. WHi 3882.

This September marks the beginning of fall term for more than 180,000 students across the twenty-six campuses of the University of Wisconsin System. The return to school is an opportunity for reunion and renewal, for the discovery of new possibilities and the re-evaluation of old ideas — including the idea of public higher education itself. If this idea is to remain relevant in the years to come, then we must value public universities as something more than a monetary cost to taxpayers and a dollar discount to tuition payers. At the foundation of any real public state university there is a deeper value: service and accountability to the people who make up the state. One need not look farther than the development of the University of Wisconsin itself for an illustration of what this ideal means.

The University of Wisconsin and the State of Wisconsin were created in the same stroke. Article 10, Section 6 of the Wisconsin Constitution of 1848 declared:

"Provision shall be made by law for the establishment of a state university, at or near the seat of government, and for connecting with the same, from time to time, such colleges in different parts of the state, as the interests of education may require."

Wisconsin's founders called for a public university in the state constitution, and established the seat of learning as one with the seat of law, because they had an ideal of cultivating productive citizens, and educated citizens, and cultured citizens, but above all else, citizens — participants in a democracy and shapers of law, not mere subjects either of crown or wealth. John Lathrop, the first UW Chancellor, expressed this concept eloquently at his inaugural address on January 16, 1850:

"The American mind has grasped the idea, and will not let it go, that the whole property of the state, whether in common or in severalty, is holden subject to the sacred trust of providing for the education of every child of the state. Without the adoption of this system, as the most potent compensation of the aristocratic tendencies of hereditary wealth, the boasted political equality of which we dream is but a pleasing illusion. Knowledge is the great leveler. It is the true democracy. It levels up—it does not level down."1

As it grew, the University of Wisconsin only strengthened in its commitment to knowledge as true democracy. In 1894, when economics professor Richard T. Ely was attacked by in the national press as an anarchist and socialist radical for his research interest in the growing labor movement, the UW Board of Regents convened hearings to investigate, and concluded them by issuing a famous defense of the professor and the freedom to pursue knowledge:

"We cannot for a moment believe that knowledge has reached its final goal, or that the present condition of society is perfect. We must therefore welcome from our teachers such discussions as shall suggest the means and prepare the way by which knowledge may be extended, present evils be removed and others prevented. We feel that we would be unworthy of the position we hold if we did not believe in progress in all departments of knowledge. In all lines of academic investigation it is of the utmost importance that the investigator should be absolutely free to follow the indications of truth wherever they may lead. Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found."2

Some twenty years after the regents made this proclamation, their "sifting and winnowing" statement was affixed in bronze to University Hall (since renamed for UW President John Bascom), becoming an enduring reminder of the commitment to truth.

In the meantime, the University of Wisconsin had begun to redefine the ways in which knowledge could be disseminated and truth be put to the service of democracy. Under the leadership of Charles Richard Van Hise, UW President from 1903 to 1918, the university advocated what became known around the United States as the Wisconsin Idea: a notion often summarized in the slogan "the boundaries of the campus are the boundaries of the state," meaning that the role of the public university should be public service to all the people of the state and their government — not only the researchers and students on campus. Theodore Roosevelt remarked on this ideal that:

"In no other State in the Union has any university done the same work for the community that has been done in Wisconsin by the University of Wisconsin. ... I found the President and the teaching body of the University accepting as a matter of course the view that their duties were imperfectly performed unless they were performed with an eye to the direct benefit of the people of the State; and I found the leaders of political life, so far from adopting the cheap and foolish cynicism of attitude taken by too many politicians toward men of academic training, turning, equally as a matter of course, toward the faculty of the University for the most practical and efficient aid in helping them realize their schemes for social and civic betterment."3

The "work for the community" that Roosevelt observed one hundred years ago had a wide scope. Sure, the University of Wisconsin at the dawn of the 20th century offered tuition-free admission to Wisconsin residents, paid for by state taxpayers and federal grants — but this was only typical for a public university of the period. What set Wisconsin apart were the university's efforts to reach beyond traditional student instruction to improve life across the state.

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Laura Sherry and the Wisconsin Players: Little Theatre in the Badger State

12 May 2011 | Category: Arts, History

[Note: This article was originally published at Acceity.org on 12 May 2011 and was revised and expanded with new sources on 18 June 2012].

The announcement in the New York Times on October 9, 1917, was straightforward and short: "WISCONSIN PLAYERS COMING." The amateur acting company from Milwaukee, which had been at the vanguard of the American Little Theatre Movement for the better part of a decade, was about to make its East Coast debut.

In bringing the Wisconsin Players to New York, producer Laura Sherry was doing her small part to turn the world of theatre inside out. Before 1910, New York had practically controlled the American stage. A handful of businessmen had held the nation's theatres in the grasp of their Theatrical Syndicate, which pushed safely profitable productions from New York across the country while locking out competitors.1 Laura Sherry and the Wisconsin Players represented something different: the Little Theatre, an emerging national movement of non-commercial and non-professional drama. It was now time for the actors and writers of the Midwest to bring their ideas to Manhattan.

The Wisconsin Dramatic Society published two volumes of 'Wisconsin Plays,' shown here. The first volume was dedicated to Laura Case Sherry.

Laura Case Sherry, whom the New York Times called "the guiding spirit" of the Wisconsin Players,2 had experienced the theatre from both sides — big and little, commercial and amateur. Born in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, in 1876, Laura Case's parents were Emily Avery and Lawrence Case, owner of the small town's leading general store. Her parents' position afforded Laura an education at the University of Wisconsin and the school of speech at Northwestern University. From there she went to study theatre in Chicago and at last New York, where in 1897 she joined the Richard Mansfield Company as an actress and toured the country as a cast member in several plays, including Mansfield's famous production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.3 Mansfield, then an opponent of the Theatrical Syndicate, spoke frequently against its stranglehold on the stage, even assailing syndicate bosses inside their own theatres.4 Though Mansfield's own self-interest later led him to soften his resistance, his early opposition to the centralized commercial theatre must have made an impression on young Laura Case.

At the start of the twentieth century, Case settled back into Wisconsin life. She married Edward P. Sherry, a lumber and paper tycoon from Neenah, and the couple made a home in Milwaukee. There, Mrs. Sherry set to work gathering a club of like-minded theatre devotees and performers.5 The group held meetings and rehearsals in the homes of members, and on April 21, 1909, the amateur troupe staged the one-act Irish drama Riders to the Sea by John Millington Synge at the Davidson Theater in Milwaukee.6 The Irish play was fitting, for the Little Theatre movement in America would draw much of its inspiration from a tour of the United States by the Irish Players in 1911 — but Sherry's troupe performed Riders to the Sea years before the Irish Players' visit, demonstrating their foundational role among the nation's community theaters.7

The nascent Milwaukee association soon gained the support of University of Wisconsin English professor Thomas Dickinson. Unable to produce plays at the university in a time when theatre was not deemed a proper academic subject, Dickinson founded the Wisconsin Dramatic Society in Madison in 1910 and organized a company of players by 1911.8 Dickinson and the Madison group worked closely with Sherry and her Milwaukee compatriots from the start, so that the two associations quickly became branches unified in a statewide society.9 The Wisconsin Players had now been born in earnest.

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The Mississippi Flood: Awash In History

16 April 2011 | Category: History, Nature

Note: This article documents flooding that occurred in April 2011. As of May, Prairie du Chien is once more dry and green, and all the parks and historic sites mentioned below are now open for visitors.

The Mississippi River surrounds a log house on St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien during the Flood of 2011. The Villa Louis mansion is visible perched on a mound in the far background.

The Father of the Waters is reenacting a familiar natural drama at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Swollen by spring rain and melted Minnesota snow, the Mississippi River will carry over 1.5 million gallons of water past town each second during the peak of the Flood of 2011. While the power of the river is awe inspiring, the latest flood is nothing new. At Prairie du Chien, the Mississippi is immersed in history.

An inch or so of water pools in the grass around the foundations of old Fort Crawford
Floodwater began to seep around the foundations of Fort Crawford on Monday, April 11, 2011.
The two-story blockhouse is a replica constructed in the 1930s. The fence surrounds an excavated stone "prison pit" from the fort that has filled with water.

On April 11, 2011, floodwater began to creep across the foundations of Fort Crawford, one of Prairie du Chien's most significant archaeological sites. Built in 1816, Fort Crawford was a federal military installation intended to secure control of the Upper Mississippi River for the United States. It was also situated on an island in the middle of a floodplain.

One year after Fort Crawford had been built, Major Stephen H. Long made an inspection of the post. "In regard to the eligibility of the site upon which Fort Crawford is erected," wrote Long, "very little can be said in favor but much against it. ... The site has been repeatedly subject to inundation, which is always to be apprehended when excessive floods prevail in the river."

Major Long's apprehensions proved well-founded. In 1823 he returned to Fort Crawford along with William Keating, who noted:

The river bank is here so low and flat, that by a swell which took place in the Mississippi the summer before we visited it, the water rose upon the prairie, and entered the parade, which it covered to the depth of three or four feet; it penetrated into all the officers' and soldiers' quarters, so as to render it necessary for the garrison to remove from the fort and encamp upon the neighboring heights, where they spent about a month. The waters having subsided, at the end of that time, they returned to their quarters; the old men about the village say that such an inundation may be expected every seven years.

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Posted By: Joshua | 9 Comments »

Wisconsin Census Data Released

10 March 2011 | Category: Headlines

The United States Census Bureau today released its first official 2010 population figures for Wisconsin counties, cities, villages, and towns. These are exciting numbers, and not only for comparing rival cities and hometown trends. The census data will be used, among other things, to tweak the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts to ensure equal representation — a process that will no doubt be mired down in gerrymandering and political intrigue. I'll set that aside for this post, however, and focus on the numbers.

Wisconsin's population grew from 5.36 million to 5.68 million between 2000 and 2010. That's an increase of about 6% — slower growth than in most states, so Wisconsin's rank has slipped from 18 to 20 over the last ten years. That slide in proportion is small enough that Wisconsin will still keep eight congressional representatives and ten electoral votes for the next decade. While overall growth was sluggish, it's notable that the state's Hispanic population increased by over 72% in the last ten years. Hispanic residents now make up nearly 6% of the state's total population.

The map below shows the relative change in the total population of Wisconsin's counties:

The map shows that Wisconsin's population growth was spread fairly consistently across the state and carried over into many rural counties, with the exception of the north woods. Fifty-two counties gained population, and twenty had a loss. This is a stark contrast to what happened in Iowa, where 2/3 of the counties saw a population decrease.

Wisconsin's largest cities remained fairly steady over the last ten years. Milwaukee continued to lose population but at a decreasing rate, and it remains by far the state's largest city. Near Milwaukee, Racine and West Allis also lost population, while Waukesha grew by 9%. Madison saw its population rise by 25,155 people, a jump of 12%. The only change in ranking was that Janesville overtook West Allis as the state's 10th largest city.

Wisconsin's 10 Largest Cities in 2010 and 2000
City 2010 2010 Rank 2000 2000 Rank Pop. Change % Change
Milwaukee 594,833 1 596,947 1 -2,114 -0.35%
Madison 233,209 2 208,054 2 25,155 12.09%
Green Bay 104,057 3 102,313 3 1,744 1.70%
Kenosha 99,218 4 90,352 4 8,866 9.81%
Racine 78,860 5 81,855 5 -2,995 -3.66%
Appleton 72,623 6 70,087 6 2,536 3.62%
Waukesha 70,718 7 64,825 7 5,893 9.09%
Oshkosh 66,083 8 62,916 8 3,167 5.03%
Eau Claire 65,883 9 61,704 9 4,179 6.77%
Janesville 63,575 10 59,498 11 4,077 6.85%
West Allis 60,411 11 61,254 10 -843 -1.38%

Here in Southwest Wisconsin, every county except Crawford gained population. A number of factors likely contributed to Crawford County's loss, but the major back-to-back floods on the Kickapoo River in 2007 and 2008 no doubt played a role: Gays Mills in Crawford County lost over a fifth of its residents; Soldiers Grove lost nearly one in ten. The county seat at Prairie du Chien also experienced a slight decline.

In Grant County, Cassville fell below 1,000 people, and the county seat Lancaster experienced a slight decline, but Platteville's population jumped from 9,989 to 11,224. Fennimore's population skipped ahead of both Mineral Point and Darlington.

La Crosse, the largest city in the region, remains almost unchanged in size with only a slight decline, but it's largest suburb Onalaska grew by nearly 20%.

The table below includes figures for several cities and villages in Southwest Wisconsin. Click on a column header to sort the table by that column.

Cities and Villages in Southwest Wisconsin
City or Village 2010 Population 2000 Population Change % Change
Black River Falls 3,622 3,618 4 0.11%
Boscobel 3,231 3,047 184 6.04%
Cashton 1,102 1,005 97 9.65%
Cassville 947 1,085 -138 -12.72%
Darlington 2,451 2,418 33 1.36%
Dodgeville 4,693 4,220 473 11.21%
Fennimore 2,497 2,387 110 4.61%
Gays Mills 491 625 -134 -21.44%
La Crosse 51,320 51,818 -498 -0.96%
Lancaster 3,868 4,070 -202 -4.96%
Mineral Point 2,487 2,617 -130 -4.97%
Onalaska 17,736 14,839 2,897 19.52%
Platteville 11,224 9,989 1,235 12.36%
Prairie du Chien 5,911 6,018 -107 -1.78%
Reedsville 1,206 1,187 19 1.60%
Richland Center 5,184 5,114 70 1.37%
Soldiers Grove 592 653 -61 -9.34%
Sparta 9,522 8,648 874 10.11%
Spring Green 1,628 1,444 184 12.74%
Tomah 9,093 8,419 674 8.01%
Trempealeau 1,529 1,319 210 15.92%
Viroqua 4,362 4,335 27 0.62%
Westby 2,200 2,045 155 7.58%

You can dig for even more census data at the Census Bureau's American Factfinder website. What do you make of the new figures? As always, feel welcome to comment below.

Posted By: Joshua | 2 Comments »

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