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UW-Milwaukee students reenact history on Twitter

iPhone user touching Twitter
iPhone user touching Twitter

Every year, a group of UW-Milwaukee history students reenact a historical Milwaukee event on Twitter. From the birth of a polar bear at the Washington Park Zoo, to the first official weather forecast in the U.S. by a Milwaukee naturalist — each reenactment has months of research and thought behind it.

History and urban studies professor Amanda Seligman chooses the event and her students research historical figures tied to it. Based on their work, students create online personas for their character and send out Tweets as if we are experiencing history in real time.

The class combines traditional research skills with creativity and imagination.

"We read a bibliography that has a cast of potential characters and then in the course itself, we invite the students to pick the character that they want to reenact. They research that character and write the tweets from their point of view," says Seligman.

This year, students can pick anyone from Milwaukee's famous Mitchell family.

"The three Mitchell men ... are Alexander Mitchell, who was the wealthiest man in Wisconsin in the 19th century. His grandson, Billy Mitchell, for whom the airport is named, who was the father of the American Air Force, and in between was John Mitchell who was, among other things, a U.S. senator," says Seligman.

Students also get hands on learning and professional development skills, which Seligman notes were built into the course.

"Students get a chance to go behind the scenes at the Milwaukee Public Museum, learn about what the professionals there do, learn about what jobs are there in museums, and how can they begin to prepare themselves for whatever their future work might be," she says.

Lillian Pachner is an undergraduate history major at UWM and they’re involved in the initial research for the course. They say this course was their first experience in any professional work and it's helped them plan for the future.

"I've been able to kind of work out what I want to do in the future. I've made some incredible connections with people at the Milwaukee County Zoo and Milwaukee Public Museum and I feel like I have like a network of professional support," says Pachner.

Seligman says that while the course may not be a traditional way to learn and explore history, it works.

"I found in the end, that it's really fun. Once you understand the mechanics of how it goes, it turns out to be just a joyful thing to take your knowledge and share it with the public in a way that tells a story that nobody has ever seen before," says Seligman.

Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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