A Short History of Wisconsin - Erika Janik Ever since I’ve left Wisconsin, I’ve become more interested in its history. Wisconsin is an odd state really. Although most Americans’ eyes gloss over it on a map, the mostly ignored, mitten-shaped state crammed between the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest has a fascinating history. As a budding anthropologist, I’m obsessed with the idea of place-making. Too often individuals fail to respect the importance and uniqueness of seemingly less desirable regions. In the United States, I am sometimes reluctant to answer where I’m from because most askers make some rude, rather stereotyped joke (“You’re from Wisconsin? Oh, I’m sorry!) when the response is anything but an East Coast metropolis or sunny California town. I understand that most people are joking; they give zero thought to what has been indoctrinated as an acceptable response, but in my studies of anthropology and personal experience, such degradation of smaller, less populated areas is harmful. So I loved this book because it provided a plethora of facts about why Wisconsinites and non-Wisconsinites alike should appreciate the state. For example, author Erika Janik constructs this short history tome using a binary opposition: the dissonance between tradition and reform. Of course, this contradiction is not Wisconsin-specific, but it does seem to best define the state. In the corner of tradition, we learn that Wisconsin has the oldest state constitution in its original form (sans amendments) outside of New England and that Wisconsin founded many of the first environmental conservation movements, thus seeking to preserve the natural in lieu of the new. Yet Wisconsin is also immensely forward-thinking (the state’s motto is, unironically, “Forward”). Wisconsin is the birthplace of both the Republican party and Progressivism and it had the first large-scale electric use (in Appleton! where I grew up). These struggles between tradition and novelty led to many of the states’ interpersonal conflicts. The Yankees and Germans fought ferociously over state politics, although I’m unsure which group is the traditionalist here, and Protestants and Catholics argued over state morals and religion (strangely, the Protestants were the more uptight group and wanted to outlaw more personal liberties in the name of God and morality). It would take a bit of thought, but if I wanted to, I bet I could construct a thesis as to how this clash of tradition and reform is inspiring the current political climate of Wisconsin, how the peaceful and kind state has become a monster in the American political arena. This book was fine. It was well-written in clear, easy prose that makes it a quick read. What I most enjoyed was that it gave me more ammunition to my disgust at the current way we treat unpopular, essentially non-metropolitan regions. Where people live is important. It defines their lives, and they should be able to feel proud of it. This book reminded me of the many reasons Wisconsin is a wonderful place.