Students, teachers and history buffs now have a substantial new resource to turn to for Wisconsin historical information. The Web site "Turning Points in Wisconsin History," launched by the Wisconsin Historical Society in December 2004, pulls together a dizzying array of primary source material that can be easily searched. Materials include letters, diaries, newspaper stories, photos, posters, museum objects and much more.
While content is tied to state educational standards, the Web site is not just for use in the schools. Anyone with an interest in Badger State history will find it a rich resource to browse. All of the materials on the site can be viewed, printed, copied or downloaded free of charge, as long as it is for non-commercial use.
Site content is being expanded and updated daily, making "Turning Points in Wisconsin History" a growing resource. The site is currently strongest in the area of early Wisconsin history, but it stretches to the 20th century. In order to help users navigate the site, content is grouped according to broad themes, such as "Prehistory & Native Peoples" and "The Civil War Era." Brief articles help introduce the various sections, which contain resources clearly marked as photographs, Web links, books and the like.
A special "Dictionary of Wisconsin History" within the site provides concise definitions for a thousand important people, places and events. Almost one hundred reference maps help summarize information visually.
While designing the site, its creators sought public input about what content was most useful. Educators, students and the general public were given the opportunity to vote on what they would like to find on "Turning Points in Wisconsin History." More than 100,000 votes were cast in May 2004.
The site's creators have provided advice on how to make use of primary sources, including those that contain language or images considered offensive by contemporary standards. Teachers in particular are encouraged to view these resources as a way to get students to think critically about the historical record and the viewpoints of those whose voices survive.
Support for the site comes from the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, CESA 6 and a "Teaching American History" grant award to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh from the United States Department of Education.
"Turning Points in Wisconsin History" provides an excellent example of how digital technologies can make rare and precious resources available to a broader number of people than ever before. Now, instead of trekking to a museum or library to see some of these resources, history lovers can call them up on their computers in the convenient setting of their home, office or classroom.