Article written by Lizzy Schmidt and Karyssa Gulish, UW-Eau Claire Public History Students
Eau Claire has identified itself as the Music Capital of the North as a response to the musical renaissance that the region has found itself in. As a result, we are in a moment in Eau Claire history where music and arts are becoming very important to our sense of identity. As historians we do not have the primary sources that we need to properly study and research the music in the area. From this, the Sounds of Eau Claire project was created.
In the spring of 2017 students from the Introduction to Public History course completed the first round of oral histories that documented stories from local music legends. These included Jazz professor Bob Baca, festival organizer Jim Bischel, and Blugold radio manager Scott Morfitt. Students researched, interviewed, and transcribed the conversations with the narrator. These histories were later turned into podcasts that were broadcast to the public on Blugold radio. The interviews were donated to Special Collections and Archives in McIntyre Library and are open to the public for research.
These oral histories were just the tip of the iceberg for the Sounds of Eau Claire, this sparked not only another semester of oral histories but the History Harvest event that was held on March 3, 2018 at the Chippewa Valley Museum. This event aimed to digitize the hidden gems of Eau Claire’s musical past. These hidden gems included instruments, programs, scrapbooks, and other musical memorabilia. The Special Collections and Archives has partnered with the UWEC history department to collect and digitize these various items that came to us through the History Harvest. Led by Dr. Dan Ott with assistance by Archivist Greg Kocken, Students in the Public History Seminar course were trained to digitize these treasures as well as collect metadata about the objects. This allows for students to get real life experience with actual Public History work, this kind of project is not often found at a university of Eau Claire’s size.
Aside from the digitization process, the day featured various speakers and performers. Including: "Oclare/Eaux Claires, Faux Claire/Eau Claire: Music and the Imagination of an Upper Midwestern Community" with UW-Madison folklorist Dr. James P. Leary; Live Music with Bob & Bernie Cynor; a Panel Discussion: Echoes of Eau Claire with Cathy; Reitz, Dr. Gretchen Peters, Dr. Nick Poss, and Nick Meyer; Live Music with Nick Seeger; and University Roots in the Chippewa Valley Music Scene with UWEC Music Department chair Dr. Gretchen Peters. These speakers and performers made this event not just for donors but allowed for the community to connect with the history and culture of Eau Claire.
This is funded by in part by the Wisconsin Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.