Redfearn credits family, UW-Platteville for igniting passion for history

Written by Laurie Hamer on |

From the time she was about nine years old, University of Wisconsin-Platteville alumna Winifred (Winnie) Redfearn knew that she wanted to be a history professor. Over the years, her love of history grew, and she realized that, more than anything, she wanted to open a window to the past and share the stories of those whose voices had never been heard.

In May 2019, Redfearn earned a Bachelor of Arts in history and political science with a minor in business administration from UW-Platteville. This degree not only enabled her to gain the knowledge, skills and experience she will need to attain that goal and excel in her field, it fueled a desire to continue her education. She is currently pursuing an M.A. and a Ph.D. in history at UW-Madison, studying United States history with a specialization in 19th century Native American and African American histories.

Family kindles early love of history

Redfearn credits her family and her upbringing in Hazel Green, a village of about 1,200 residents in Southwest Wisconsin, with first kindling her love of history.

“Hazel Green is in the heart of the Driftless Region and the lead mining rush that engulfed the Upper Mississippi River Valley in 1827,” said Redfearn. “My family has ties to mining in the area that date back to the 19th century, and my paternal grandfather fought in the U.S. Army in World War II. I wanted to be a history professor since my formative years, and as I grew older, my love for history grew stronger and deeper through hearing the stories of my family realities and living in the unique Driftless Region.”

Thanks to the stories shared by family members about her ancestors, Redfearn came to understand and realize the importance of her family’s deep ties to the region. Knowledge of these ties intensified her interest to learn even more about the history of her family, her hometown and beyond.

UW-Platteville provides expert scholars, small class sizes, affordable tuition

Following her graduation from Southwestern Wisconsin High School in Hazel Green in 2014, Redfearn began researching universities throughout Wisconsin where she could pursue a degree in history. She ultimately chose to attend UW-Platteville because it offered expert scholars, small class sizes and affordable tuition.

“The advice, support and encouragement that I received from the history and political science professors at UW-Platteville is something for which I am forever grateful,” she said. “I could not have asked for a better group of people from whom to learn and gain advice.”

“UW-Platteville’s small classes and personal setting allowed me to hone my skills in collaborative and engaging intellectual discussions as well as my ability to establish a good rapport among the professors and her peers,” she added. “I genuinely enjoyed the small class sizes at UW-Platteville and with it, the ability to work with my peers to consider theoretical frameworks, concepts and skills, and learn how to apply those to other courses and in life.”

UW-Platteville provides unique hands-on learning experiences

Redfearn said UW-Platteville provided multitudes of ways for her and all students to enrich their education, including unique hands-on learning experiences that were critical to preparing her for graduate school and her future career.

“I loved several opportunities I had, including studying abroad on the History of Science and Technology in Europe trip, taking part in student research, working as a tutor and a peer-assisted learner, and serving as the president of the Platteville History Club,” she said. “These experiences helped me gain skills in researching, writing, problem solving, leadership and teamwork, which prepared me for graduate school and beyond.”

As a peer-assisted learner, Redfearn offered writing and tutoring assistance to students, held drop-in sessions and organized exam review sessions and essay writing workshops for the History of the United States to 1877 course, taught by Dr. Eugene Tesdahl, assistant professor of history at UW-Platteville, and the History of the United States since 1877 course, taught by Dr. David Krugler, professor of history at UW-Platteville.

“UW-Platteville’s Department of History aims to live the Wisconsin Idea every day for all of our students,” said Tesdahl. “All students get a hands-on approach to history at UW-Platteville, but Winnie Redfearn embraced that goal with both diligence and exuberance.”

“Winnie’s dedication to learning the craft of history as an undergraduate was inspiring and incredible,” added Krugler. “As an undergrad, she undertook serious, sustained archival research of the kind most budding historians don’t dare try until they’re in a graduate program.”

Another memorable hands-on learning opportunity Redfearn had as a student at UW-Platteville was being part of an undergraduate research team, advised by Tesdahl, that conducted in-depth, primary document research on African American lead miners in Wisconsin. This experience took her and her classmates to the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, and to the U.S. House of Representatives building in Washington, D.C., where they presented their research.

“This research was, and is, important to me because I got to help tell the stories of those who were never permitted to tell them,” said Redfearn. “It was, and remains, important for us to share this research with others because lead mining is so pertinent to Wisconsin’s history, and more people should acknowledge that free and enslaved African Americans made vital contributions in lead mining and in the economic lead boom in the Driftless Region. This project allowed me to hone my research and writing skills.”

“Accompanying Winnie and her classmates to present our research at the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C. remains a high point of my career,” said Tesdahl. “Winnie’s skill and determination in history as a vocation blossomed when she led that research team. Watching Winnie continue to excel remains a privilege.”

Redfearn said the hands-on learning experiences and ideal learning environment UW-Platteville provided helped prepare her for the rigor of graduate school and allowed her to gain further experience in sharing more inclusive histories with the public.

Graduate school, UW-Madison

As a graduate student at UW-Madison, Redfearn is continuing her tradition of pursuing excellence.

“I really enjoy the intellectual discussions and conversations I have inside and outside the classroom with people in various fields and disciplines,” she said. “I am learning something new every day. I think the biggest challenge is adjusting to the overall rigor of graduate school; however, the history and political science professors at UW-Platteville prepared me better for graduate school than I could have ever imagined. UW-Platteville offered strong history and political science departments with expert scholars in their fields.”

Redfearn has clearly impressed the faculty members with whom she works most closely, Dr. Christy Clark-Pujara, associate professor of history in the Department of Afro-American Studies at UW-Madison, and Dr. Stephen Kantrowitz, Vilas Distinguished Achievement professor of history and an affiliate faculty member in Afro-American Studies and American Indian Studies at UW-Madison.

“I first met Winnie as an undergraduate student at the opening of the African American Miners exhibit at the Mining and Rollo Jamison Museums in Platteville,” said Clark-Pujara. “From the first time I met her, I was impressed by her dedication to revealing how history informs our present and how the past shapes interactions and experiences today. Winnie is an ideal graduate student. She loves to learn; she is driven and organized and passionate about telling the stories of people often forgotten; and, most importantly she is willing to do the hard work it takes to research and write the history professionally. Simply put, Winnie is a delight to work with. Her current M.A. project will complicate how scholars think about both Native and African American history in the Midwest.”

“Winnie approaches her work with great seriousness and great humanity,” said Kantrowitz.

Looking ahead

As she looks to the future, Redfearn’s passion for history is fueled by her natural curiosity and her desire to better understand and appreciate the people, places and events of the past – and then share that knowledge with others.

“I want to make a positive difference in the world by opening students’ eyes to the quotidian experiences, contributions and acts of resistance of African Americans and Native Americans in United States history,” she said. “I aim to be a U.S. history professor who does not view Native Americans and African Americans as a ‘people in the box.’ U.S. History cannot be taught without sustained attention to Native Americans and African Americans. I am inspired by the ability to bring voices back to the voiceless and to share the stories of those who were unable to do so themselves.”