Nationwide honors

UWL’s ‘Hear, Here’ project earns national recognition

A UW-La Crosse history project has received the most prestigious national recognition for preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

“Hear, Here,” organized by UWL’s public and policy history major emphasis, received the Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History, along with 62 other awardees nationwide. The award recognizes good history that changes people’s lives by helping them make connections with the past. “Hear, Here” was the only project to receive an award in Wisconsin.

logo for "Leadership in History Awards" Shows image of a tree and AASLH.The award will be presented at a banquet during the 2016 AASLH Annual Meeting in Detroit, Sept. 16.

UWL Associate History Professor Ariel Beaujot and her classes launched “Hear, Here” in downtown La Crosse in April 2015. It will remain intact until 2020. Orange colored street signs in the downtown core have toll-free numbers on them allowing people to use their cellular phones to listen to recorded stories from everyday people who worked, lived and shopped the streets. The on-site, cellphone-based system is accompanied by a website with an interactive map featuring the same community voices.

Emily Pfotenhauer, the state team leader for American Association for State and Local History, encouraged Beaujot to apply for the award.

“One thing that stood out for me was how well-designed and planned the project was,” notes Pfotenhauer. “They went a step beyond gathering the information to really put together the project in a user-friendly and fun way for people to engage with it.”

The Leadership in History Awards is AASLH’s highest distinction and the winners represent the best in the field, says Trina Nelson Thomas, AASLH awards chair.

Students gain skills and experience

Beaujot and UWL students in the public and policy history major emphasis did a lot of the legwork behind the project. Students in a fall 2014 course collected, recorded and edited stories about downtown La Crosse’s past and present. Then, students in a spring 2015 semester course launched the project gaining skills in curation, web design, telephone technology and public relations.

Jennifer DeRocher, a recent UWL graduate who worked on the project, says the experience changed her life. “Both Hear, Here and Dr. Ariel Beaujot taught me countless things,” she says. “I learned what it is like to not only be part of a public history project, but also to be passionate about my work and my place in the world. I learned to work as a strong individual, as a reliable partner, in a forward-thinking team and with a life changing professor and mentor.”

DeRocher adds that Beaujot made the class space into what each student needed it to be as they developed and implemented a large-scale history project.

“Hear, Here prepared me for my future perhaps more than anything else I did in college, and it is all thanks to Dr. Beaujot,” she says. “She helped me become the strongest student I’ve ever been. She trusted me with things I didn’t even trust myself to do, and showed me what I’m capable of.”

Hear, Here expands concept of history

Hear, Here takes stories from UWL’s Oral History Program archive and makes them much more public, says Beaujot.

“It literally puts them on the street,” she explains. “Not everyone is willing to go into an archive and search for information. Because of the project, people are now more aware of what we have in Murphy Library’s special collection.”

Hear, Here also broadens awareness how diverse people experience La Crosse past and present, adds Beaujot. A third of the stories represented in the Hear, Here project come from historically underrepresented groups. People share both feelings of connection and disconnection from the city.

The project also increases awareness of what history means, notes Beaujot. Many think of history as “great men, great wars,” but the project opens up a broader understanding that encompasses the average and everyday. It allows everyone to make history — the leaders and the followers too.

“Followers are important because that’s what makes a movement,” says Beujot. “Hear, Here offers a new understanding that we are all movers in history, and we are all movers in the present.”

Project partners and future

Hear, Here was completed in partnership with Archives at the La Crosse Public Library, Downtown Main Street Inc., The Heritage Preservation Commission—City of La Crosse and Murphy Library Special Collections.

The City of La Crosse has asked Beaujot and her classes to create a Hear, Here project for the north side of the city in 2017-18. Beaujot is currently writing a grant proposal to fund that project.

Hear, Here reaches thousands across the world

About 2,700 people called into the Hear Here street phone system from April 2015 to April 2016. Callers represent a diverse group with about 1,000 calls coming from area codes other than 608.

The Hear, Here project website was also successful in reaching a large and diverse audience with about 6,600 users from 108 different countries during the first year.

A full listing of Leadership in History Award recipients can be found at: about.aaslh.org/awards.