Wisconsin Historical Society’s Angela Titus
Angela Titus has been assistant deputy director and chief
program officer for the Wisconsin Historical Society since
July 6, 2020.
member of a progressive team.
“It’s nice to be in a position as part of the senior leadership team where I can have influence and make changes in how we go about sharing the stories of people of
color, LGBTQ, and other communities, providing more access across the state to folks who can’t come to Madison,” Titus said. “These are things that we are very
focused on and there are a number of us now in the Society that our director has brought in who are in these senior positions where we can bring the Society
forward. And that is very exciting when you have a group of people who are all like-minded from the director on down and will continue to add to that team. But we’
ve already spent a lot of time planning some exciting events that we’ll see over the coming months here. We’ll definitely keep you updated on everything as we roll
out each piece.”
One aspect of changing the narrative is to make sure that the resources that you have receive the visibility and context they deserve.
“To go down the halls of our preservation facilities, our collections are just eye-popping,” Titus said. “I love seeing the African American newspaper collection
dating back to the 1800s. I go, ‘Wow!’ I jokingly call it the ‘seal the deal’ for us because I was walking down one of the halls with one of our curators looking at the
collection and thought, ‘I bet no one knows we have these things.’ They are incredibly rich. I think about these publishers back in the time when they were actually
publishing them and I say, ‘Who were these brave people? They are courageous and the stories that they were capturing were incredible and here we have all of
that all these years later. The Society is celebrating its 175th anniversary next year. And we have all of these things in our collection. We need to tell those stories.
We need to give more access to those parts of the collection that people may not know about. We are really embarking on big preservation push, putting more
things on line. We have a number of things that just aren’t in the catalogue yet. It takes a lot of people hours to do this with technology. We need to figure out how we
make all of that happen because there are just some wonderful things in the collection.”
And although moments like Black History Month are held to ensure that the stories are heard, it is also important that Black history not be “separate, but equal.”
Black history is Wisconsin history.
“Even before I came to the Society, I said. ‘We’re Black people every day and every month of the year and not just in February,’” Titus said. “It’s just like people are
gay and not just in June or October during Gay History Month. One of the main things that we have started to do is to integrate the stories of everyone throughout the
year. Yes you may see some special things and they’re about culture and maybe additional things, but the key is for us to recognize that all of the stories we tell we
can integrate and should integrate the stories of people of color, Indigenous people and African Americans. We need to do that all of the time. For example, we are
celebrating our 175th anniversary seen as visionaries, change-makers and story tellers. It’s talking about who are change makers in this state. There are all kinds
of people. Certainly many people of color are under that heading. We’re telling that story all year. You’re going to see us launch this in the next week or so and it is
going to continue through our anniversary year of telling just a range of stories of people of color who are story tellers, who are change makers, who are
visionaries in our state’s history and integrate that and tell all of the stories and not separate it out and only tell the stories in February.”
And when the story of Wisconsin and its people are told, African Americans are present, from before the Civil War to fighting in the Civil War to today. African
Americans are an intricate piece of the Wisconsin story.
“If you are talking about agriculture and farming, there are Black farmers,” Titus said. “And there are inventors and scientists and business people. There is a
woman who started the first savings and loan owned by a Black person in Milwaukee back in the day. There is a man born into slavery and eventually became an
entrepreneur. He owned his own barbershop. He ended up working for the State Assembly on the side. There are all kinds of stories of people who are creating,
who are endlessly creating and inventors. There are business people who are social activists. There is a range of stories and I think it is really incumbent on us to
tell those rich stories of each of these communities and not be narrowly focused on the stories that we tell and how we tell them.”
And Titus doesn’t just want the story of African American Wisconsinites to be told, she wants them to be told by African Americans.
“Who tells the stories is important,” Titus emphasized. “We have a speaker’s bureau. My vision for that is we have a very diverse range of people telling the
stories. I would love to bring some young people into that. Out team can help and coach and provide resources in terms of researching topics and then including
those folks in our speaker’s bureau. It doesn’t have to be our staff or book authors. It can be community members who have lived some of that history or they are
interested in it. There are a lot of people around the state in different communities who can become a part of that speaker’s bureau. That’s one of the things were
working on right now, to launch that and think about who is telling the story.”
And while history is the story of what happened in the past, tomorrow’s history is happening today and so it is important to capture it now while it is occurring.
“Over the past several years, people have created many amateur and unsung stories and we welcome that when we think about presidential politics and social
justice going more mainstream, thank goodness,” Titus said. “There are the interactions at the Capitol and we saw the first woman color as VP. There have been so
many historic moments. And we see a lot of interest by a lot of people. And we think that is just great for history. We’ve got a lot of the things in our collection
because of the foresight of our directors in collecting the history of everyday people. Even the COVID-19 journal project where we have over 2,000 people who
participated journaling about their experience. Those are all going to be really valuable 100 years from now. And so it is really relevant with other things going on.
We’re happy to see people paying attention to history.”
If history isn’t told from the perspective of all, then it is impossible to fully understand the present and to chart a true course for the future. The Wisconsin Historical
Society is on a course to let everyone’s voice be heard.
By Jonathan Gramling
It is an exciting historical crossroads for the Wisconsin Historical Society right now. It is about to
celebrate its 175th Anniversary and it appears its new museum will be built at the present site of
GEF I on E. Washington Ave.
It’s also an exciting historical crossroads because so much history is being made today from the
Black Lives Matter movement to the election of Vice-President Kamala Harris and her special ties
And it is an exciting historical crossroads because the Society is looking to do things differently and
have brought in Angela Titus, its assistant deputy director and chief program officer, to help reshape
the Society’s direction.
Titus has abundant and diverse experience, from her work with the world famous San Diego Zoo to
the United Way of San Diego, that will help her guide the Society’s efforts. She is excited to be a