Public History Project Sponsors UW-Madison’s 2022-2023 Go Big Read Book Alongside Sifting & Reckoning Exhibit

September 28, 2022

This year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Public History Project is a partner and one of the sponsors of the 2022-2023 Go Big Read program featuring the book How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith. A narrative nonfiction exploration of the nation’s legacies of racism, How the Word is Passed engages with conversations around historical and persistent institutional marginalization — conversations that sit at the forefront of the Public History Project’s semester long exhibition Sifting & Reckoning: UW–Madison’s History of Exclusion and Resistance displayed at the Chazen Museum of Art. Together, this year’s Go Big Read book and the Public History Project’s exhibit encourage UW-Madison students, staff, faculty, and the Madison public to reflect on the university’s own record of systemic discrimination and student-led opposition.

Photograph from a portion of the exhibit entitled “A Culture of Racism” featuring images from the 1988 student protest on Bascom Hill and the development of UW’s Multicultural Student Center.

Photo: Elise Kerns

Drawing on the history of UW-Madison’s academic, athletic, and social record of exclusion, Sifting and Reckoning asks how “community” has been defined by the university, how marginalized peoples have been barred from that definition, and how community in turn emerges through collective action, protest, and resistance. This year’s Go Big Read book poses similar questions, as Smith’s text examines not just how institutions themselves represent America’s historical record of slavery, but how communities across the nation collectively choose to reckon with that history and form shared traditions and collaborations in response. Like Sifting and Reckoning, Smith’s How the Word is Passed faces embedded legacies of marginalization while also attending to the coalitions and communities that emerge in their wake.

Photograph from a portion of the exhibit entitled “Student Activism” which features a series of flyers promoting protests on campus throughout the 1970s.

Photo: Elise Kerns

The Go Big Read Program thrives on this attention to community action and collective conversation. With hundreds of students this year enrolled in courses participating in the Go Big Read program across departments and programs in the University and beyond, this potential for community reflection, action, and reckoning expands. We are excited to partner with the Public History Project, this semester’s exhibition which runs through December 23rd at the Chazen, and upcoming events that will continue to place these works in conversation — including the upcoming Keynote event with Clint Smith, held November 1st at 7pm.

Photograph at the end of the Sifting & Reckoning exhibit, featuring a quote my UW-Madison alumna bell hooks.

Photo: Elise Kerns

Elise Kerns
Graduate Assistant, Go Big Read Program & Libraries Teaching & Learning Programs Office