History students examine 18th century documents

September 23, 2014
Colonial American History Course students examine 18th century documents

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Thirteen University of Wisconsin-Platteville students had the unique opportunity to examine 18th century documents on loan from the archives at UW-Madison in the Southwest Wisconsin Room at UW-Platteville on Sept. 9. The students are enrolled in the Colonial American History course, taught by Dr. Eugene Tesdahl, assistant professor of history at UW-Platteville and a specialist in early American and Native American history.

The Southwest Wisconsin Room, located in Ullsvik Hall, houses historical materials of UW-Platteville and Southwest Wisconsin.

The students read and analyzed a series of letters, deeds and accounts from the colony of New York on the eve of the American Revolution. Some students read treaty negotiations between New York officials and the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). Others scrutinized court cases of lawyer and merchant Samuel Jones. Another group of students studied a letter Sir William Johnson, British Indian agent for northern nations, penned on Feb. 6, 1773. Students will continue to study these documents along with other primary and secondary source research this semester as they write research essays in Tesdahl’s course.

“Something special happens when students have the opportunity to get their hands on a letter written with a goose quill from 1766,” said Tesdahl. “The Southwest Wisconsin Room and its archives are excellent resources that our history students get to explore.”

“It is such a pleasure to meet with students and show them some of the historical items of the Southwest Wisconsin Room,” said James Hibbard, archivist at UW-Platteville. “I am always reaching out to faculty, students and staff to make them aware of what a gem the archives truly is.”

Kathleen Stietz, a senior history major from Gratiot, Wis., examined a case argued by colonial New York lawyer Samuel Jones in 1766 over a land patent from 1667. “Working with the documents firsthand makes researching more intense and gives you a better sense of the time period being researched,” Stietz said. “It is interesting to see how the English language has evolved. It’s like a game, deciphering the script, figuring out what it says, then putting it all together to try to understand the whole idea. Documents like this give a reality to the time we are studying.”

Ricky Niemeier, a senior history major from Dodgeville, Wis., transcribed a 1774 letter from the Connecticut Committee of Correspondence pushing toward the American Revolution. “My experience handling and viewing primary documents from the 1700s was fascinating and brought a whole new joy for me as a history major,” Niemeier said. “Being able to view these documents that others haven’t seen – and possibly will never get to see – was a truly unique and eye-opening experience.”

Students included Stietz; Niemeier; Mackena Collier, a freshman history major from Green Bay, Wis.; Max Schmalzried, a senior history major from Brighton, Mich.; Nicole Goodman, a senior secondary education major from Hortonville, Wis.; Amy Jelle, a senior history major from Mineral Point, Wis.; Caleb Schneider, a junior history major from Muscoda, Wis.; Brad Doherty, a junior secondary education major from Rockford, Ill.; Alex Reed, a junior history and education major from Bettendorf, Iowa; Tyler Sass, a senior business administration-finance major from Jackson, Wis.; Jennifer Niehoff, a senior criminal justice major from Menomonie, Wis.; Samuel Lambert, a freshman history major from Middleton, Wis.; and Bailey Wallace, a senior graphic design major from Mazomanie, Wis.

Contact: Dr. Eugene Tesdahl, department of history, (608) 342-1788, tesdahle@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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