Pioneer Spotlight: Tracey Roberts

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Pioneer Spotlight
Tracey Roberts
February 13, 2015

Tracey Roberts, senior lecturer of history at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, began teaching at UW-Platteville in 2006. Roberts completed undergraduate degrees in history and medieval studies at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. She did her graduate work in European history with a minor in U.S. immigration history at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Roberts teaches World Civilizations I and II, U.S. History I and the History of Wisconsin. She also serves as an advisor for students completing history internships. When Roberts is not teaching, she enjoys kayaking, swimming, hiking and traveling. She is a certified yoga instructor and has been practicing yoga for 10 years.

What is most rewarding about going into a career in history?

I truly love the variety of the work I do. I enjoy our students very much and I feel privileged to partner with them in their intellectual growth. I deepen my own understanding of historical topics each semester as I add new material into my courses and I practice new ways of teaching. It never gets old.

I enjoy the company of my colleagues and the bright, dedicated people from across the campus as I participate on committees and in meetings. Another reward of this career is the deep satisfaction of the research and writing process. To add to the body of knowledge in my field and then to present papers at history conferences is really exciting for me.

What is most difficult about going into a career in history?

Anything that is worthwhile generally takes a lot of time and effort. Being a historian and a university lecturer means dedicating most of my day to course preparation, student interaction and grading student work. While I don’t find change all that difficult, I’m aware that our university is an organic, ever-changing institution. We aren’t in an ivory tower with our dusty books and globes. We historians change with the needs of the institution; we keep up with the technology updates and incorporate best practices. I know that I am expected to continue my own growth and evaluate my ideas with an eye to continuously improve.

Why is hands-on, applied learning so important to prepare students for their future careers and lives?

To guide the learning process of many students, we must offer them a chance to do more than listen to lectures. To me, an exciting classroom environment is one where students are thinking, talking, listening, debating, questioning and connecting. Students tell me they learn more from lecture classes that include visuals such as slides, film and discussion. I also use “student response devices” in the lecture hall so that students can interact with the main points of our weekly themes. Outside the classroom, there are many opportunities across our campus for hands-on learning. In the department of history, we match student interest with available internships. Sometimes these internships pay.

How did you become interested in history and your specialties? (General world civilizations, 19th century Europe, U.S. immigration, regional history of Wisconsin and Illinois, material culture and public history)

I did not always know I would become a historian. In my late teen years, I was introduced to local and regional history by becoming involved in a history-writing project envisioned by my uncle. Even though I was completely clueless, he set me on the task of looking up records in a Mormon Church research center near my home. As I reeled through parish records from the 16th and 17th centuries on an old microfilm machine and saw the strange script and even the use of Latin words, a fire was lit in me. I pursued history as a field of study from that time on.

Could you explain your current research on the Mississippi Lead Mine Districts in Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa?

I have been studying the history of the Lead Mine District and the Driftless Area for two decades. I have been researching and giving talks on what I call “Badger Huts,” small stone buildings that are found in the Lead Mine District. These buildings are usually dismissed as old root cellars, but my research has caused me to believe they served as housing for early lead miners.

Another area of research I have almost completed is a story of a Wisconsin woman who lost her husband in the Civil War just as she birthed their first and only child. My research shows she traveled to Chicago where she set up as a seamstress. Her story gets very interesting when she was called up by the Pension Commission to prove that she was still eligible to receive a pension. She was followed and spied on and finally accused of living with a man, rendering her ineligible for future pension payments. I am researching the change that occurred in the 1880s as pensions were being scrutinized and women vilified to get them off the rolls.   

You were the coordinator of the 2014 Wisconsin History Symposium held at UW-Platteville April 3-5, 2014. Can you explain the mission of the symposium and provide a brief recap of this successful event?

The Wisconsin History Symposium fills a need identified by many historians and history students in undergraduate and graduate studies – to share their research with others. I got the idea to initiate this symposium after attending and presenting at several history conferences in Illinois. The idea is to bring together those doing work in the history of our state, Wisconsin, and spend a couple of days contemplating the new ideas about Wisconsin that are posed by these presentations.

The first symposium, held in 2014, included professional and avocational historians, undergraduate and graduate students, archeologists, literature specialists and history enthusiasts from around the state and beyond. We had a very successful meeting and we plan to hold the Wisconsin History Symposium again at UW-Platteville in 2016.  

Interview conducted by Connie Spyropoulos, College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email


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