Mapping Radical Milwaukee

Eli Frank, “Mapping Radical Milwaukee”
Mentor: Rachel Buff, History

For nearly half a century, Milwaukee was governed by a trifecta of socialist mayors and was home to one of the most robust and accomplished socialist movements in the country. The history of municipal socialism in Milwaukee has received considerable scholarly attention, and the historical legacy of this socialist movement is ever-present in the Milwaukee landscape and built environment; one need only look to the public parks system, for example, to see the impact municipal socialism had on shaping the terrain we interact with every day. Less known, however, is that twentieth-century Milwaukee was also home to other radical movements and tendencies, like communism and anarchism. This project, then, in identifying and mapping a handful of sites representative of the social, political, and cultural worlds of Milwaukee’s various radicalisms and placing those sites in their historical contexts, seeks to answer how these other radicalisms laid claim to public space and how, in thinking of the built environment as historical witness, we can read the urban landscape for traces of this disappeared past. We will end by advancing a number of conclusions that can be drawn from this research, including proposing a link between the suppression and marginalization of radical movements during the Red Scare(s) and processes of erasure in the built environment. Ultimately, by mapping the history of Milwaukee’s marginalized radicalisms, we hope to raise to the surface the ways in which these submerged and subjugated histories laid claim to public space and worked to transform the social fabric of the city. In recovering and reconstructing the social, political, and cultural worlds of Milwaukee radicalisms, this project aims to uncover alternative narratives about Milwaukee’s past to allow us, however fleetingly, to reinhabit those disappeared worlds in the hopes of imagining alternative futures.

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  1. Fantastic! I’m about a third of the way through, and leaving this tab open for between-meeting times today. Well-written, clear, and loving the GIS integration.

  2. Wow, I am seeing Milwaukee differently! Your effort to see the past in the landscape is pretty inspiring! I have never imagined doing something like this with my work. Your descriptions are so vivid!! Congratulations.

  3. Amazing presentation! It makes history come alive. Great use of a variety of sources. A great teaching tool. Great job!

  4. Thank you all for the time you spent with the project & for your kind feedback—much appreciated, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  5. What a well-designed project! I love your incorporation of the old Sanborn fire insurance maps.

    1. Thank you Abbi! I’m indebted to the AGSL and you & everyone else on the Digital Collections team who worked on making those Sanborns so easily accessible!

  6. Great work Eli! Wish we could all get together and talk about this. Missing see you, Dad and Nora.

    1. Hi Debbie! Funny meeting you here. Thanks so much & hope it’s not too long before we’re able to chat about this in person!

  7. I really enjoyed exploring this project. The text begins to illustrate the hidden city quite vividly and the ArcGIS story map is a very neat way to help me also begin to understand the narrative visually. I wonder what redrawing these maps might reveal? Seeing the sites as dots renders them lonely individuals, whereas the text seems to be weaving a network among them, which is not visible in this format (except where the route of the May Day marches is fully drawn out). What would this map look like if it highlighted the sites of radical gathering as a layer unto themselves, given special emphasis in the larger urban fabric of Milwaukee?

    There are also so many tantalizing clues for the future of this work to trace the erasure of radical movements in the built environment (in your words). Right now, I notice many phrases like “although the hall was eventually demolished,”
    “today dominated by parking lots,” and “no longer stands today” – and crave follow up on these erasures in the form of a deeper analysis of why they occurred. You hint at forthcoming work in this are in your conclusion and I urge you to move in this direction.

    Terrific work!

  8. Great project! I am glad that you were able to put to good use information from the chapter of my Wicked Milwaukee book. Keep up the good work

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