Cultural anthropologists helping to keep Milwaukee’s ethnic spirit alive
Nearly 100 anthropologists and anthropology interns have donated their time to help Milwaukee residents learn about their cultural and ethnic groups—past and present.
In 1998 a group of anthropologists, including academics, formed the nonprofit organization, Urban Anthropology Inc. (UrbAn). Since that time nearly 100 anthropologists and anthropology interns have donated their time to help Milwaukee residents learn about their cultural and ethnic groups—past and present.
Studies and documentaries
Early on the anthropologists focused on oral history studies of Milwaukee ethnic groups. A study, involving 70 anthropologists and over 60 ethnic groups, went on for over 15 years. Along the way the anthropologists created a host of documentaries, all of which have been aired on PBS or MATA-TV. Most of these documentaries can be viewed at no charge at www.urban-anthropology.org.
Three books also resulted from these studies. One, an academic book, is American Ethnic Practices in the Twentieth Century (2013): The Milwaukee Study. The second, a lay book, is Strolling through Milwaukee’s Ethnic History (2016). The third, a children’s fiction book, is Kids in Cultures (2015), which situates stories of children in past and current cultural settings in Milwaukee.
Four years ago the anthropologists began a bimonthly newsletter called Milwaukee Ethnic News, which covers ethnic events, stories, histories, and issues. Anyone wishing to join over 1000 subscribers can send an email to JFLanthropologist@sbcglobal.net and type “subscribe” in the subject line.
The largest project by far was unveiled just weeks ago. It is a website designed for teachers, youth programmers, and parents to teach children about ethnic groups and their practices throughout history. While most of the features on the website focus on Milwaukee, the KATS (Kids Across Time and Space) link also offers 12-15 minute slide shows of fictional stories that situate children in venues ranging from ancient Kush to Medieval China to Renaissance Italy to slave life in America to the Irish in the Third Ward.
A number of the stories in the KATS ensemble are situated in Milwaukee and based on UrbAn’s oral histories of ethnic groups and neighborhoods. For example, the story entitled “Ruby’s Lost Childhood” is about an African American girl who lived in both Bronzeville and the Sherman Park neighborhood. The story offers background into the razing of Bronzeville and social justice initatives in Sherman Park.
Many of the links also include games, art projects, and recipes of the ethnic groups. The website is www.teacheraidsforkidsmilwaukee.com.