UWL award-winning oral history project tallies calls from all 50 states
This article was written by UWL alumna Calli Niemi, who, along with Associate Professor of History Ariel Beaujot and fellow students, launched the Hear, Here project in 2015.
Hear, Here has received more than 11,900 calls from all over the country since its launch in April 2015, with over 5,000 of those coming from outside the local 608 area code.
In August 2019, the national-award winning project reached a new milestone with a call from every state in the U.S.— A big shout out to Mississippi, the final state!
Over four years ago, UWL Associate Professor of History Ariel Beaujot and students in the Public and Policy History major created Hear, Here, a project that allows La Crosse residents and visitors a chance to hear stories from the past and present in different locations around downtown La Crosse by dialing a toll-free number at orange street signs.
This project has been incredibly influential on my education and career. After graduating from UWL with a bachelor’s in Public and Policy History in 2015, I made the decision to continue studying public history at UW-Milwaukee. Hear, Here instilled in me the drive and motivation to find new ways to make history and learning more accessible. After graduating with my master’s degree in Public History, I began working for IndependenceFirst in Milwaukee, a non-profit that advocates and provides services for individuals with disabilities.Calli Niemi
This work reflects UWL’s strategic planning pillar of increasing community engagement. Hear, Here both partners with community organizations — such as Downtown Mainstreet Inc., London Public Library Archives, and the City of La Crosse Heritage Preservation Commission — and provides education in the liberal arts for students interested in making a difference in their community. Students or community members interested in participating in the project as it expands into North La Crosse can watch for Beaujot’s Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 classes, Exhibition Design I and II.
The overwhelming response to Hear, Here shows residents and visitors alike are interested in ways to engage deeper with the community. They are drawn to the orange Hear, Here signs scattered throughout downtown and take the time to call in and hear a first-person narrated story about the public space they are standing in. The project currently has 69 stories spread across downtown (nearly doubling the initial 28 stories), allowing visitors to get glimpses of untold La Crosse history on a walking tour of their own making.
The calls spike drastically in the summer months, which have consistently received the most calls since the project’s inception. For example, August receives an average of 325 calls each year, which may indicate an influx in out-of-state visitors to the city in the summer. Callers stay on the line for an average of 1 minute 48 seconds (most stories are two minutes or under), with many making multiple calls.
Part of what makes Hear, Here special are the stories the project tells. The project, which won the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History award in 2016, has focused on telling the stories of those who have not always had a voice in history, the stories that have gone untold or have been pushed aside. It tells the stories of spaces people may otherwise ignore, giving these spaces new meaning. The fact that these stories are reaching audiences across the country reinforces the importance of this project in fostering public engagement and conversation around the stories that often challenge traditional views.
Since its start in 2015, Hear, Here has created a new project in London Ontario (2019), a project in North La Crosse is planned in 2021, and Hear, Here is currently in discussions with communities in La Farge, Wisconsin and Miami, Florida for future projects.