Captain’s collection

UWL students help archive dozens of historic photos and documents for the A.A. Arnold House in Galesville, WI

History class creates digital archive of local historic photos, documents

Kyle Lopata stared at his computer screen as a historical portrait started digitizing. The image of Captain A. A. Arnold appeared. It’s saved with the proper file name in the final step of adding it to a digital archive.

Lopata and his fellow UW-La Crosse history classmates are repeating this process dozens of times as they process photos and documents for the A. A. Arnold House, based in Galesville. “It’s a cool experience,” says Lopata. “Especially with actual historical things that probably haven’t been seen in decades.”

The files were brought to the UWL class, ahead of going to the Wisconsin Historical Society, by Chris Otzelberger, a board member and volunteer at the A. A. Arnold House. She wanted them to come to UWL first to make them readily available for the house to use inside the building and on social media.

Arnold, a Civil War captain, built the house in 1874 — not long after Galesville was founded. He would go on to help shape the town and the state, serving as speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly and as a state senator. “Without the faces and history behind Captain Arnold’s impact, it’s just an awesome house,” explains Otzelberger.

Working together

The opportunity is the ideal example of UWL and community partnerships — and one of many opportunities history professor Ariel Beaujot provides to her students.

The classroom is organized for the students to read and discuss careers and fields of study for public and policy history majors, followed by a visit to a local place where that work is being done. For example, the class went to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona to meet with the education coordinator. “The students asked questions and become experts through meeting the experts and by their prior reading,” shares Beaujot.

Along with the archiving experience, Beaujot believes the students are picking up more skills in the service learning project, including group work, organization and communication.

“It’s really nice to do this. I think they really understand the work by doing this,” says Beajout. “It’s not hard work, but it’s important work.”

Documents future

After the materials are processed and go through the Wisconsin Historical Society, several of the images and documents will end up in the UWL Murphy Library Special Collections.

The collection already has several papers related to Arnold. Laura Godden, ‘07, UWL Special Collections and Area Research Center Archivist, is eager to see it grow. “If you don’t keep these documents together, you get a split collection at a bunch of institutions,” she says. “That’s incredibly confusing and inconvenient.”

That’s especially true for students like Lopata and Jaci Bedtka, who, for a class assignment, proposed creating a biographical book about Arnold. They’ve already started digging through the UWL Special Collections and now there are dozens of more pieces to go through.

“It’s cool to see the stuff we may include in the book,” says Bedtka