"The experiences of everyday people are the living fabric of American culture," says Joseph Salmons, co-director of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures (CSUMC).
Salmons, along with associate director and folklorist Ruth Olson and other staff, works on a variety of projects that preserve and promote awareness of the Midwest's cultural diversity. The Madison-based center researches Native American cultures and immigrant groups both old and new.
CSUMC has existed since 2001 and brings together staff on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and from a variety of external partners. Its publications and programming engage both academics and the general public.
The center also provides materials for teachers, including online curriculum guides that help them bring immigrant cultures alive for their students. In June 2004, the center held a conference in Rhinelander, Wis., for teachers of local culture, an event that was produced in cooperation with the Wisconsin Arts Board and K-12 teachers around the state. About twenty teachers participated, and attendance is expected to grow in future years. As part of the conference, participants were led on a local cultural tour organized by Rhinelander fifth-graders.
"Kids are a passport," says Ruth Olson, when it comes to exploring other cultures. She finds that adults are very generous with their time when they have to chance to help educate children. Olson tells of a group of children who were invited to attend a Hmong funeral. The son of the deceased encouraged the children to feel free to ask questions about the ceremony. Despite the highly personal nature of the occasion, it was also a valuable learning opportunity that was met with openness by both the children and their Hmong hosts.
CSUMC is currently planning several conferences, such as a November 2004 conference on Upper Midwestern storytelling that will include Ojibwe, Hmong, German and other cultural traditions. While some of the sessions will be scholarly in nature, others will have broader appeal, including a series of storytelling "concerts." The event will be produced in cooperation with the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies, also based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Looking ahead to April 2005, CSUMCalong with its partner, UW-Madison's Center for the Humanitieswill produce a major, ten-day event that will be part conference, part festival. Called "The Future of Folk," the event will take place in Madison and combine academic sessions with other events like performances, film screenings, exhibitions and more. As its name suggests, the event will explore the role of folk culture in a rapidly changing world.
Another major project on the horizon is a Web-based database on dialect, created in cooperation with the Max Kade Institute, the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) and Mills Music Library at UW-Madison. The database will begin with dialects of the Upper Midwest and expand outward. Site content will include audio clips and essays; the site is set to launch in 2006.
As these examples make clear, partnerships are crucial to the CSUMC. Its work is project-basedfocused on producing specific conferences, publications, recordings, resource materials and the likeand brings together the expertise of many people within Wisconsin and beyond. All share a passion for recording and sharing the distinctive cultures that give the Upper Midwest a sense of place and lend meaning and richness to everyday life.
For further information about the CSUMC, or to join the Friends of CSUMC, an organization that helps fund its programs, call Ruth Olson at 608-262-8180 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about CSUMC through its Web site.