Settlement and Survival: Building Towns in the Chippewa Valley

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Benjamin P. Filene, Associate Professor and Director of Public History (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:

Abstract: One photograph appears in two different exhibitions at the Chippewa Valley Mu- seum. The difference in its treatment suggests both how far this emerging regional museum has come and the challenges it still faces. The photograph shows a team of horses dragging the church building out of Porter's Mills, Wisconsin, in 1901. In the museum's "Rural Heritage" exhibition (opened 1982), the photo is displayed merely as a historical curiosity. It accompanies a display of the church's original altar, one of several period installations in the exhibition (barbershop, general store, doctor's office, etc.) that quaintly evoke small-town life around the turn of the century. In "Settlement and Survival: Building Towns in the Chippewa Valley, 1850-1925" (opened December 1992), the same photograph of the horse-drawn church is used to very different effect. The exhibition shows that the church was being moved because the region's logging industry had collapsed and the town was dying. The "Settlement and Survival" exhibition uses the photo as a poignant ex- ample of what it asserts was the pivotal moment in the Chippewa Valley's history- the shift from a logging- to a manufacturing-based economy. In short, "Settle- ment" integrates the photograph into a coherent historical argument, a significant departure for the museum. Unfortunately, while the exhibition offers a substantial reassessment of the region's history, it does not do enough to ensure that visitors actually understand and appreciate the argument its creators intended. Despite the staff's best intentions, visitors may still see the exhibition's images and objects as isolated curiosities instead of as evidence for a thoroughgoing interpretation

Additional Information

Journal of American History, 84(1) (June 1997): 167-72.
Language: English
Date: 1997
Chippewa valley, Settlement patterns, Museum design

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