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Eau Claire history students step up to the plate

Eau Claire history students step up to the plate

Students in John Mann’s Public History Seminar course this semester have a unique opportunity.

The 400 and 600 level students are working together with W.D. McIntyre Library, as well as the Dunn County Historical Society,  to create an exhibit on the history of African-American baseball in the area.

Mann said he was approached by the library to see if he would be interested in having his class collaborate on the project.  He said he liked the idea and thought it would work well for the class.

“It’s a traditional seminar in that students do original research and they critique each other’s papers, but they do so in the context of interpreting history for some partner agency,” Mann said.  “So the students are accountable to someone aside from me.”

Senior Dustin Fick said that, as a baseball fan, he was excited when he heard about the topic for the class.

“With Carson Park here,  Hank Aaron and all the ties to a lot of minor league teams and whatnot throughout history,” Fick said,  “the Chippewa Valley and  Dunn County have a lot of
baseball history.”

Mann said the students have conducted an oral history project, where they spoke to people in the area who have meaningful things to say about the area’s baseball history.

“Eau Claire has a pretty rich baseball history; it’s where Hank Aaron got his start, depending on how you define start,” Mann said.  “A number of other famous people have come through here ­— Joe Torre, Wes Westrum, the list goes on and on.”

Fick said the seminar students wrote research papers on different topics related to the overall topic of African-American baseball in the area.  These papers will then be compiled into a volume which will be kept in Dunn County.

Students have been compiling information for the exhibits for the library, as well as the Rassbach Heritage Museum in Menomonie and the Chippewa Valley Museum at Carson Park, Mann said.  They will eventually help design permanent exhibits for the museum, as well as a traveling exhibit for the library.

Fick said he hopes people will see the exhibits they designed and relate to the baseball history in
the area.

“(We hope) it will make people that come in, whether they’re from Menomonie, or Eau Claire, or Boyceville (because) they’ll have a relation and familiarity with it,” Fick said.

Working with museum professionals, conducting oral histories, and creating panel exhibits provides an important opportunity to students, Mann said.

“This will be something they can put on their resume, that they were part of a group that put together professional-quality museum exhibits,” he said.

Mann said having an interesting topic like this makes the class more enjoyable and rewarding for the students.

“It’s fair to say that when the students learned about the topic in this course they were more excited than some of the other topics that they’ve pursued in the past,” he said.

The students’ work will be on display when the traveling exhibit opens in the library  in June.

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