The Food Exhibit in the History Museum at the Castle

By Jamie Lewis


The History Museum at the Castle in Appleton may be small, but it has several significant exhibits, which tell important stories of people, their cultural traditions, and technological change in the Fox Cities. Once I was a few steps into the exhibit, Food: Who We Are and What We Eat, I knew that this display was an important one for several reasons. Food summarizes the story of how immigrant food traditions in the Fox Cities evolved into Wisconsin traditions, as well as how technological change influenced the entire process. A mixture of interactive multi-media, authentic artifacts used for food harvest and preparation, and hands-on virtual exhibits, such as the sturgeon spearing shack, make the exhibit entertaining, interesting, and educational.

The most important aspect of this exhibit is the political, cultural, and social context explaining the reasons for the various immigrant cultures making Wisconsin their new home.  The Hmong story of political upheaval in their own homeland, which caused them to immigrate to the Fox Cities, was especially effective, I thought, at conveying all three of these aspects.  Another example is the account of how the temperance movement affected German immigrants, local politics, and empowerment of women. Part of the exhibit is designed to encourage discussion of cultural or political events that took place in earlier years. Visitors get to “cast a vote” to choose a side in a debate such as the Milk Strikes, or Temperance issues by placing a poker chip in a clear bucket attached to the wall.  This not only asks you to examine your own personal feelings about the issue, it allows you to see how other museum-goers feel about the issue.  It draws visitors in, encouraging one to place themselves in the shoes of the people involved, thinking about the issue more than they might otherwise have done and allowing them to, in a sense, voice their opinion.

Another subject covered by the exhibit is the ethnically rooted traditions of wild game hunting and fishing.  A life-sized fishing shanty, complete with a virtual sturgeon spearing game which allows visitors to try their luck identifying the sturgeon from a few other types of fish and take a turn trying to “spear” it, is amusing for adults and children and was the most popular portion of the exhibit.  Other stations even offer “smell boxes” so that visitors can experience the smells of a brandy old fashioned or cheese while they read about their place in local history.  Another station has jelly beans in the flavor of the food being discussed.

Overall I feel that this is a great exhibit: colorful, fun, informative, and interesting.  The Museum at the Castle’s Food exhibit is appealing to all ages because of the bright, colorful wall posters, the technological and interactive aspects of some of the stations, and the explanation of the cultural heritage of some of the Fox Valley’s most cherished food traditions.  It does a great job of showing how social, political, and technological input come together to shape and influence who we are as people of the Fox Cities, and how our community is defined by the food traditions we share in common. ν

Jamie Lewis is an Environmental Studies major at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and hopes to work in Wildlife Rehab someday.

his past Spring, twenty-six UWO students studied “public history” for a semester.  A simple definition of public history is presenting history to the public.  If you think about it, we encounter history all the time, in many different formats outside of the classroom.  Museums, books, and memorials are the most obvious places.  Films, historical fiction, video games, and your parents’ attic are also places we encounter the past, though.  Our job during the semester was to look at the ways in which historians try to present history to the public, and figure out how to do it well. Students toured the Oshkosh Public Museum, walked through the streets of Oshkosh, looking at memorials and markers, played historical video games, read lots of books, and reviewed everything from children’s books to parks to museum exhibits.  A couple of these museum exhibit reviews will appear in the Scene, since they can introduce readers to some of the museum exhibits available to us locally.  The first is by Nathan Wolff, history major and future teacher.  

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