I minored in history in college, so I got pretty geeked up when we decided to write about local history in the May issue of Madison Magazine. The last time we tackled the topic in earnest was to mark the sesquicentennial back in 2006. This time around we’re returning to the city’s roots with the help of some remarkable historians and archival experts.
We started our journey back in time by meeting with the good folks at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Jammed into a dated and dusty conference room, a half-dozen history geeks shared ideas and inspiration for how we might frame the article. The conversation was so stimulating we weren’t quite sure what to do with it all. Editorial director Neil Heinen came away geeked up about the idea of history in the digital age and how the Internet has made it more accessible than ever. We both began to think about the instructive if not eerie connections between the past and the present given the unprecedented economic downturn the world is experiencing.
Then next step was a fascinating follow-up conversation with WHS archival historian Jim Draeger, co-author of Fill’er up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations. I’d worked with Jim a few years back on a terrific Mad Mag article featuring Frank Lloyd Wright protégés so I was confident his mega-brain would help set the story in motion. After we peppered him with dozens of questions on historic corollaries to modern-day issues and he responded with enlightening answers, it occurred to me that we had a really nice story in the making.
I’m about three-quarters of the way through all the research and halfway through the writing, and I’m happily spent. The folks at WHS continue to amaze me, and books like David Mollenhoff’s Madison: A History of the Formative Years and Stuart Levitan’s Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History Vol. 1 are life savers. Mollenhoff offers a sweeping journey through the social, economic and political history of our city, while Levitan places particular emphasis on biographical portraits of influential people and the politics and turning points that have shaped the city’s growth and development. Both are remarkable in their intellectual depth and accessible prose.
These two books, the WHS website and local historian Ann Waidelich have helped me make sense of the past; UW–Madison professors Patrick Remington and Ann Smart Marin, along with an encouraging associate editor and art history major Katie Vaughn, are helping me draw comparisons and conclusions about the present. What fun! I hope readers are just as geeked.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Monday, March 9, 2009
For the second year in a row, Madison Magazine has been chosen as a finalist in a prestigious national city and regional magazine awards competition. Five magazines from around the country are vying for the top spot in the General Excellence category. There are three tiers based on circulation; our magazine is in the 30,000 and under group. We're a small market compared to, say, Chicago, New York and L.A, but our competitors are not lightweights. And neither are we! There's some spectacular magazine editorial and design work happening across the country, and we are grateful to be named among the best. Click here for the details. They'll announce the winner in early May. No matter what happens, making the cut is an accomplishment, and I'm proud of the staff and those who've supported us in our efforts.