Posts Tagged 'Alison Efford'

Marquette History Students Collaborate with Middle-Schoolers to Research the Latino History of Milwaukee

By William Denzer

As the refrain goes, people study history in order to understand the present and plan for the future. In our current political climate, little is more heavily debated than national policies of immigration. This spring semester, I have been serving as a graduate assistant to Dr. Alison Efford for History 4120, an upper-level undergraduate course on immigration. What makes this course unique is not only the final project, in which the students create websites, but who they are collaborating with.

3About twice a month middle school students from St. Rafael Catholic School on the South side of Milwaukee came to Marquette’s campus to work with a group of students in HIST 4120. Each group was expected to use primary sources found in the greater Milwaukee or Madison-area and create a Weebly-based website showcasing their findings.

This course provided undergraduates the opportunity to navigate the historical narrative of Milwaukee immigrants while collaborating with the St. Rafael students, most of whom identified with the Latino community. The visiting St. Rafael students were able to participate in an undergraduate course and learn firsthand not only what a collegiate experience would be like, but how they could have similar experiences again in their near future at Marquette.

On April 26, nearly sixty students met to present their websites to other students and faculty members in Eisenberg Room of Sensenbrenner Hall. Descriptions of two of the projects follow.

Anna DeMeuse, Tim Sanchez, and Angelica Martinez’s group chose to examine the Sanctuary Parish movement in the Milwaukee Archdiocese in the 1980s. Their website ( incorporated personal letters, meeting notes, newspaper articles, and transcribed interviews between migrant workers and parish council members. What the group generally discovered in their sources were tensions between members of the parish councils as they debated which policies and how much assistance to provide to those in need. This project gave each group the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with primary documents and garner insights into the process of creating a historical narrative.

1Another group, comprised of Perla Hernandez, Cassy Cassa, Luisa Era, and Edgar Vazquez Ramirez, focused on migrant workers’ camps in Wisconsin from the late twentieth century to the early twenty-first century ( Many migratory camps in Wisconsin housed agricultural workers, who often enured limited amenities. McKay Camp in Waterloo was a camp established for individuals and families who were working in the cherry industry. McKay Camp was closed in 2004 and the students believe it may be due to nitrate levels in the water supply. Many of the camps’ residents transitioned into the extensive dairy industry in Wisconsin. To construct their examination, the group incorporated documents from the Department of Workforce Development and the Migrant Labor Camp files, all housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Visiting the Wisconsin Historical Society provided insight into how archives are constructed and how professional historians utilize documents to recreate historical experiences, such as those within Milwaukee’s Latino community.

Such a unique and collaborative effort would not have been possible without the assistance of many talented faculty and staff. Special thanks to the research assistance from Taylor McNeir and Leatha Miles-Edmonson in the library, as well as 2016-2017 Mitchem Fellow Sergio González for his inspiration and guidance throughout the semester. Many thanks to the teachers Erin Mulligan, Michael Derrick, and Andrea Alvarez at St. Rafael. Marquette’s Center for Urban Reaching, Teaching, and Outreach, under the interim direction of Dr. James Marten, provided funding for transportation and the culminating celebration.

William Denzler has just finished his first year as an MA student at Marquette University. His main interests are in twentieth century American history, Allied Powers transnational history, Holocaust studies.


Alison Efford in Samoa–on serendipity and field research

Dr. Efford continues her account of recent sabbatical research trips to New Zealand and Samoa.  Here she reminds of us the importance of serendipity when doing history. 

My first research trip to Samoa had its frustrations. Internet access was unpredictable. I usually turned up to appointments damp with sweat despite being scantily clad by local standards. My contact at the main university had left for New Zealand a week before I arrived, and the archives of the Catholic archdiocese were unavailable after being hastily relocated twice since the 2009 tsunami.

While the challenges of working in a small and tropical developing nation (when “Samoa” is unqualified, it refers to the islands that are not American territory) were rather predictable, the rewards were quite unexpected. I had not counted on Samoans being so willing to help out a sweaty palagi (white) woman who turned up asking odd questions about events long ago. Fa’afetai lava (thank you very much) to Amela Silipa and Vaveao Toa at the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Culture, to Rev. Father Kolio Kelekolio, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Samoa-Apia, to Lalotoa Mulitalo, a legislative drafter and doctoral student at Australia’s University of Queensland, and to Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, a distinguished historian who now serves as a judge.

The Apia clock tower with a billboard marking the fiftieth anniversary of Samoan independence.

Ordinary Samoans were also prepared to talk history. Taxi drivers, waiters, and school children were eager to discuss the fiftieth anniversary of Samoan independence from New Zealand. Apia, the capital, is preparing for celebrations in June with a rash of construction and beautification.

When I wondered aloud whether all this activity was mostly for the benefit of foreign dignitaries, everyone assured me how much the anniversary mattered to them—and not just because it will be marked by a week-long public holiday! Samoans are very proud to have shaken off colonial rule before their Pacific neighbors.

Continue reading ‘Alison Efford in Samoa–on serendipity and field research’

Alison Efford in New Zealand–Constitutions and Histories

Dr. Efford on constitutions as a lens for looking at the past and present in New Zealand and the US.

I am an historian of the United States. I am also, among other things, a New Zealander. I have always imagined that my outsider’s perspective brings something distinctive to American history. But on my latest trip home (reconnaissance for a project on Samoa), I thought the tables might turn. Perhaps my American training could offer useful insights into developments in the country of my birth. New Zealanders are performing a constitutional review, and the American past has a lot to say about constitutions.

Americans penned state constitutions as they struggled for independence from Great Britain in the 1770s and then framed the capital-C Constitution to strengthen the central government. New Zealanders, on the other hand, never codified their fundamental law. The country slowly grew apart from Britain, and centralization is not much of an issue when your population only numbers 4.2 million!

Te Whare Runanga (the meeting house) at the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi, Aotearoa/New Zealand

New Zealand has no capital-C constitution. Its system has developed incrementally through the interpretation of English common law and the passage of parliamentary legislation regarding representation and individual rights. The closest thing New Zealand has to what Americans might recognize as a constitution is the Treaty of Waitangi. This document, signed in 1840, was an agreement between envoys from Britain and representatives of Maori, New Zealand’s original inhabitants. The Maori signees recognized the Crown’s authority in return for the recognition of their tino rangatiratanga (chieftainship) over their land, homes, and other taonga (treasures). (The definition of “tino rangatiratanga” and “taonga” is contested—and significant since Maori signed a Maori version of the Treaty.)

Although Pakeha (European) New Zealanders repeatedly disregarded the capital-T Treaty for well over a century, during the 1970s, Maori began to use it to reclaim some of the power wrested from them by force of arms, deception, and demographics. Parliament established a tribunal to redress grievances under the Treaty and thus elevated the document’s legal standing. This process provides the context for the current constitutional review. The Maori Party (just one of the many groups that represent Maori today) requested the formal public discussion in return for its support for the center-right National Party in parliament.

Continue reading ‘Alison Efford in New Zealand–Constitutions and Histories’

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