While a number of widely available publications study the contribution of ethnic groups -- from Arabs to Slovenians -- not one is devoted to the French, French Canadian, or Wallon (or Walloon) influence and continued presence in Wisconsin. However, the important contributions of francophone people from many countries is clear and evident. Dozens of French place names remain as reminders of the 139 years that our territory, strategically placed between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi, was the key western outpost of "La Nouvelle France." Thousands of settlers from French-speaking Belgium settled in towns named Brussels, Rosière, and Namur. A flow of French Canadian immigrants continued well into the 1850's, after Wisconsin became a state. Although younger than Green Bay where Jean Nicolet, in the company of a group of Huron Indians, landed in 1634, Milwaukee grew out of a settlement founded in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Mirandeau, Canadian-Frenchmen Jacques Vieau and Salomon Juneau who became the city's first mayor. It was Mirandeau who introduced cows to the area. All three married Indian or métis women. Today, there are thousands of Native Americans with French or French-Canadian last names. In business, there are continuing strong connections between Wisconsin and the Frenchs-speaking world. There are, to just offer one example, French dairy manufacturers producing camembert, brie, and chèvre cheeses out of Wisconsin milk in Belmont, Kaukauna, Watertown, Waukesha, and other parts of the state. In the cultural area, well-known institutions and events, such as Milwaukee's French Immersion School, the annual "Bastille Days," "Rendez-vous des Voyageurs," and military reenactments by "Les Troupes de Levis de Ste Foie" and "La Compagnie franche de la Marine" and many museums and places foster remembrance of French-speaking peoples' contributions to Wisconsin's rich cultural history.

In high school and middle school history books, Wisconsin's French past (perhaps its most "romantic" period) is treated in just a few pages, as though this history has little incidence on Wisconsin's cultural identity today. Although much research has been done on the history of French Wisconsin, information is scattered in widely dispersed archives, sites, cemeteries. Some have been plowed under by modernization and only old illustrations are left to document their existence; others, however, are still being discovered -- witness the artifacts of one of the earliest French encampments uncovered by an archaeology field school led by Rodell and Boszhardt in Perrot Park just this summer.

The goals of this project are: first, to involve a very wide group of individuals, from high school students to seasoned experts, in the process of rediscovering and gathering information on Wisconsin's past and present French connections by the formation of college-school-community teams; second, to present this research to a wider school and community audience using the latest available technologies (Internet, CD-Rom, Video), as well as more traditional lectures and forums in schools, colleges and community associations. Such intellectual collaboration between generations on a common project will enhance the analytical skills and broaden the cultural and historical perspective of Wisconsin's leaders in the 21st century. It will also help older collaborators understand and appreciate the talents of adolescents and young adults, which is the goal of all educators but is made increasingly difficult by the rapid pace of contemporary media. The long-term benefits of this interaction will also result in specific contributions to the sesquicentennial in various formats, from new university courses and secondary school instructional units to public forums integrating digitalized materials, all of which bring to light various aspects of the influence of French speakers, past and present, on the history, culture, and future vitality of this great state.



PHOTO EXHIBIT FROM THE WFC FAIR at UW Stevens Point, September 1998

The specific themes addressed by the project vary according to the nature of French presence in several geographical locations. Three major university centers, located in the historically most important sites, will organize the research teams (described in "Personnel" section below), in collaboration with historical societies and community groups. Broad themes include, for example:

1. UW-Green Bay: Nicolet, Langlade, French Jesuit missions, colonial life, Wallon settlement, in cooperation with Heritage Hill and Neville Museum. 2. UW-La Crosse: Perrot, fur trade, archeological discoveries, Prairie du Chien settlement, in cooperation with Villa Louis, the Crawford Historical Society and the La Crosse-Epinal Sister City committee. 3. UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University: Marquette and Joliet, Milwaukee's first French settlers, French-Indian intermarriage, Bastille days, in cooperation with Milwaukee Country Historical Society, Milwaukee Public Museum, French Colonial Historical Society, American Geographical Society, Alliance française, and the Causeries du samedi, Alliance Franco-Américaine du Midwest. 4. The Eau Claire region: voyageurs, anecdotes and folktales, in cooperation with the Eau Claire Chippewa Valley museum. In addition, at all the centers teams will explore: 1. The origin of French place names in each region; 2. genealogies--Francophone family names (with French Canadian/ Acadian Genealogists of Wisconsin, Inc.); 3. Wisconsin's present-day cultural and commercial links with the Francophone world, such as French cheese-making at Besnier and Montchevré in Belmont and wineries in Prairie du Sac. More specific themes will emerge during the project planning stage as research teams survey the French-related sites and materials concentrated in their areas.

In this collaborative effort, the universities are particularly well-suited to provide organizational leadership, faculty expertise (in History, Archaeology, Francophone studies, etc.), publicity and outreach, and modern technology, both to produce the sesquicentennial materials, and to facilitate rapid communication among the research teams around the state. For producing the CD-Rom and video, UW-Milwaukee will provide access to the $160,000 Learning Technology Center; UW-Green Bay will support the "Wisconsin French Connections" web-site on its server. For communication, several reflectors are already in place through UW-Milwaukee: "Francophone," "International," "SWAAF" (the newly formed Southeast Wisconsin Academic Alliance for all area teachers in French), "ASK-HISTORY," linking high school teachers and students with History faculty. It must be stressed, however, that the University faculty member's role remains that of resource, facilitating the process of discovery undertaken by young people and their teachers and presented to the community.

All citizens of Wisconsin (or anywhere else) interested in contributing information, or who have pictures, artifacts, books, manuscripts, personal or family stories, or anything else related to the Wisconsin's French Connections topic, are invited to contact the Webmasteror any of the project directors. Consult the Practical Guidelines for submitting documents and photos for additional information

Wisconsin's French Connections has been awarded a Certificate of Commendation by Governor Tommy Thompson. Professor Gabrielle Verdier accepted the award on behalf of WFC.

[WFC [larger version, 116K]

[Cow with fleur de lys spots] Webmaster Ken Fleurant
University of Wisconsin--Green Bay
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54311
last update 1/11/99