Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS)
Agency overview
Headquarters816 State Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Agency executive
  • Christian W. Øverland, Ruth and Hartley Baker Director
Parent agencyState of Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Historical Society (officially the State Historical Society of Wisconsin) is simultaneously a state agency and a private membership organization whose purpose is to maintain, promote and spread knowledge relating to the history of North America, with an emphasis on the state of Wisconsin and the trans-Allegheny West. Founded in 1846 and chartered in 1853, it is the oldest historical society in the United States to receive continuous public funding.[1][2] The society's headquarters are located in Madison, Wisconsin, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has occupied this building in Madison designed by Ferry & Clas since 1900.


The Wisconsin Historical Society is organized into four divisions: the Division of Library, Archives and Museum Collections, the Division of Museums and Historic Sites, the Division of Historic Preservation-Public History, and the Division of Administrative Services.

Division of Library, Archives and Museum Collections

The library reading room.

The Division of Library, Archives and Museum Collections collects and maintains books and documents about the history of Wisconsin, the United States, and Canada. The society's library and archives, which together serve as the library of American history for the University of Wisconsin–Madison, contain nearly four million items, making the society's collection the largest in the world dedicated exclusively to North American history.[3][4] The Wisconsin Historical Society's extensive newspaper collection is the second largest in the United States after the Library of Congress.[5][6][7] Visual materials in the archives include some three million photographs, negatives, films, architectural drawings, cartoons, lithographs, posters, and a variety of visual ephemera.[8] The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research is also housed within the division.[9] The society's archives also serve as the official repository for state and local government records.[1] The society coordinates an Area Research Center Network, an alliance between the Historical Society in Madison and four-year campuses of the University of Wisconsin System throughout the state and the Northern Great Lakes History Center in Ashland, to make most of the archival collections accessible to state residents. The society's museum collections are maintained in the Collections Division containing objects relating to Wisconsin history.

Division of Museums and Historic Sites

The Division of Museums and Historic Sites operates the Wisconsin Historical Museum in downtown Madison and 11 historic sites throughout the state. The museum has an archaeology program in collaboration with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources that undertakes research, and collects and preserves historical artifacts.[10] The other historic sites are tourist attractions that display historic buildings reflecting Wisconsin history and provide exhibitions and demonstrations of state history, such as ethnic settlement, mining, farming, fur trading, transportation, and pioneering life.

Villa Louis Historic Site, Prairie du Chien, which is operated by the Society
Historic Site Location
Black Point Estate Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Circus World Museum Baraboo, Wisconsin
First Capitol Belmont, Wisconsin
H. H. Bennett Studio Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Madeline Island Museum La Pointe, Wisconsin
Old World Wisconsin Eagle, Wisconsin
Pendarvis Mineral Point, Wisconsin
Reed School Neillsville, Wisconsin
Stonefield Cassville, Wisconsin
Sylvanus Wade House Greenbush, Wisconsin
Villa Louis Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin

Division of Historic Preservation-Public History

The Division of Historic Preservation-Public History administers the state's historic preservation program,[1] the state's burial sites preservation program, and the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, which publishes books on Wisconsin and American history and a quarterly magazine, the Wisconsin Magazine of History. The division also provides outreach to local historical societies.

Wisconsin Magazine of History

The Wisconsin Magazine of History (ISSN 1943-7366) is a quarterly journal published by the WHS since September 1917.[11] The society maintains a fully digitized archive that contains more than 2,000 feature articles totaling more than 30,000 pages.[12]

Division of Administrative Services

The Division of Administrative Services provides support and planning for the WHS and its divisions.

The society's website include a large, searchable collection of historical images and a vast digital archive containing thousands of scanned documents relating to Wisconsin history.

Wisconsin Historical Society employees are employees of the State of Wisconsin.[13]

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ a b c Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau (1985). "The Executive Branch". State of Wisconsin 1985–1986 Blue Book. Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. p. 460. Founded in 1846 and chartered in 1853, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin is the nation's oldest historical society to receive continuing grants of state funds
  2. ^ About page at the Wisconsin Historical Society website.
  3. ^ "Bucerius Seminar 2005: American History and American Archives" (PDF). German Historical Institute Bulletin. German Historical Institute (38): 139. Spring 2006. Retrieved 10 April 2010. the Wisconsin Historical Society, which is impressive both as a building and as an institution. It is the largest library for American history, it functions as a state archive, it is the premier place to do research on Wisconsin
  4. ^ "Wisconsin Historical Society" at www.madison.com.
  5. ^ Cates, Jo A. (2004). Journalism: A Guide to the Reference Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing. p. 251. ISBN 9781591580614.
  6. ^ Newspapers for Genealogy from the Wisconsin Historical Society
  7. ^ Newspaper & Periodicals Collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society
  8. ^ Visual Materials and Films in Our Collections
  9. ^ "About Us". Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  10. ^ Wisconsin Historical Society. About the Division of Museums and Historic Sites".
  11. ^ Schumacher, Ryan (January 2013). "The Wisconsin Magazine of History: A Case Study in Scholarly and Popular Approaches to American State Historical Society Publishing, 1917–2000". Journal of Scholarly Publishing. 44 (2): 114–141. doi:10.3138/jsp.44.2.002. ISSN 1198-9742.
  12. ^ "About the Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives". Wisconsin Historical Society. October 2012. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  13. ^ WHS job announcement from 2010
  14. ^ On the Presentation of the Mack Portrait to the State Historical Society. The Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 8, no. 1 (September, 1924), pp. 74–77.
  15. ^ John Fleckner, "F. Gerald Ham: Jeremiah to the Profession," American Archivist 77, no. 2 (2014): 377–393

Further reading