Editor's note: This piece was originally published on Dec. 7, 2018.
For nearly 20 years, one of the go-to contemporary sources on Milwaukee history has been John Gurda’s book The Making of Milwaukee. The book was first published in 1999 and tells immaculately researched stories — from the area’s earliest settlement through the cultural, political and business landscape here at the turn of the century.
But while there were some revisions in subsequent editions, it wasn't until now that The Making of Milwaukee brought readers fully into the 21st century. The latest edition of the book is now out and includes an entirely new chapter that covers Milwaukee history from 2000 to the present.
Gurda notes that a lot of areas of the city such as the Menomonee Valley have changed so drastically that people who haven't visited the city for 40 years literally do not recognize where they are.
"The Harbor District is I think the next Menomonee Valley, the Bay View neighborhood is just brimming with energy, the area kind of farther north along Commerce Street, Brewer's Hill moving up to Harambee," Gurda continues, "a lot of vectors of energy kind of spreading out, so it's been a remarkable transformation."
As a historian, Gurda says that it is much more difficult evaluating the recent past compared to past epics. Developments like Foxconn are so present "that any perspective is just about impossible." But, at the same time he feels an obligation to record these recent changes.
"I do feel a responsibility — as long as I can keep this book in print and up-to-date for whatever generation of readers who is here. So yes, this is something that, looking back in 50 years from now, people can make their own judgements as to whether I was right or wrong," says Gurda.