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ENG 497 Protest Rhetoric: Home

Professor Darci Thoune


Archival research: the thrill of the hunt

Things slow down in the archives. It's best to love that part of archival research. It's about hunting and finding the unexpected. Archival research takes patience, curiosity, perseverance, and an appreciation of the uniqueness of items from the past. Because researchers do not generally have access to where the items are stored, it's a good idea to be friendly with your archivist (probably an introvert) and not piss them off! 

Before you head into the archives, you'll be in a good place if you've thought ahead and done some preparation. They shouldn't be doing the thinking for you, their job is to bring you items that you've asked for, or to help you connect the dots and brainstorm for other items, or other ways of looking for them. Despite their obsession with keeping things in order and accessible, they can be true out-of-the-box-thinkers. 

They love smiles and thank you's :)


Archives at Murphy Library

Where are the archives at UWL?

The archives on campus are in the Murphy Library building,

across the lobby from the main library.  

When you are in the lobby, look for room

155 Special Collections/Area Research Center.

There is a doorbell near the door, which you must push

and then wait for the door to click open.

Because of the nature of the "special" collections here,

all coats and backpacks must be left in the entryway.

You will be asked to register (only once) and then sign in.

You can take in camera, computers, paper, and pencils.

They have separate hours (M-F 9:30 am-12 pm and 1:00-5:00 pm;

Wed eve 7:00-9:00 pm. No weekend hours).

Here is their website



What can you find in the archives?

Archival collections are very eclectic and therefore very challenging to classify. In Murphy Library, the archival collections are housed in the Special Collections/Area Research Center (ARC) part of the building. You can find all kinds of unique and rare historic items in all kinds of formats (photographs, posters, books, magazines, poetry, handwritten items, newspaper clippings, brochures, manuscript collections, business papers, yearbooks, handbooks, club papers, faculty papers, etc) that cover subjects created by people living in this local area from the 1850's to the present time. 

In looking for protest rhetoric, it's best to keep an open mind and be creative about where you could find such language, because it can be found all over. Because the general public does not have physical access to the content, which is protected behind closed doors, you'll have to think about what kinds of collections you might want to browse. There is not a clear "protest" collection. 

The library homepage search box is a good place to start. Think of your search terms and or an author, and try different ones. 

One local author who has written about La Crosse history in the 20th century is Susan Hessel. She published a book called A history of La Crosse, Wisconsin in the twentieth century : reinventing La Crosse again and again. 

Browsing through it would give you a sense of historic movements or events in La Crosse. From there,  you could jot down a list of topics and ask one of staff in the archives for anything related to this topic. With some luck, you might find some textual protest rhetoric.

Here is how a general search for other things she has written would look:

UWL Murphy Library has digitized some archival collections, so you can browse them from the comfort of your couch or coffee shop. Here is how you would find UWL's Digital Collections on the library website:



Digitized Example: The Cuban refugees near La Crosse

Let's take the Cuban refugee crisis of 1980, when The Freedom Flotilla, also known as the Mariel Boatlift, occurred in 1980 after President Carter opened the doors to the United States for hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees, of which nearly 15,000 would eventually arrive at the resettlement camp at Fort McCoy in Western Wisconsin. Countless regional and national news articles were published following and highlighting both the positive and negative events that followed, many of whom were classified as criminals under the Fidel Castro government. This collection contains photographs that were taken by journalists reporting on the “Cuban Odyssey,” most of whom worked for the La Crosse Tribune, bringing together nearly 250 images of individuals and events directly involved with the Freedom Flotilla. 

If you went into the archives, and ask for anything on this topic, they'd bring you the actual photos (that are now digitized) and news articles, pamphlets, and other items they may have. Even if you don't see any textually based protest rhetoric in the photos, you may find something in the "vertical file" that they will bring you, which will be a paper file with textual based items. 


Example: 1969 UWL student protests & student newspaper crisis

In 1969, with the Vietnam War protests growing nation-wide, UWL student editor Janel Bladow, of the student-run newspaper, The Racquet, published an article taken from another newspaper in California in the December 12, 1969 issue. The article's apparition created a black lash of trouble for both the student editor and the faculty advisor, Joseph Zobin. Campus President Sam Gates made the unpopular and punitive decision to take away the student newspaper from the student body, and put it under the direct management of the new Communications Department.

You can read many weeks of strongly written editorials and articles in The Racquet, either in the physical copies in Special Collections, or from the digitized copies online. There are also oral histories with the faculty advisor Zobin, student editor Bladow, and President Gates. Other protest rhetoric can be found in student org meeting minutes and files. 




Example: Children's books on social justice issues



Children's picture books are another source of protest rhetoric. From picture books to non-fiction and informational books, subjects that have traditionally been ignored, or simply intentionally not treated, in order to protect the young and innocent are now flourishing, as seen in recent publishing trends (both in mainstream as well as independent publishers). 

Some of these subjects cover death, divorce, illness, grief, incarceration, domestic violence, sexual orientation, all of the -isms (sexism, racism, etc), religion, poverty, diversity, to name a few, that now challenge librarians, teachers, parents, care-givers, and children to confront and become comfortable with new ways of looking at societal and human conditions. 

It is especially interesting to consider the language and messages in international children's books as protest rhetoric, because of the variety of perspectives on any of the subjects mentioned above.  



Example: Postcards

Ideas and suggestions for sources from the La Crosse area and UWL

The first step is to have a loose working sense of how items are arranged in the archives in Murphy, then choose a topic that you'd like to investigate, then to consider different formats. There are many things that are not indexed or cataloged, so it's best to work with your friendly librarian, who has access to the strange organizational system and a very strong sixth sense. 

How the Murphy archival collections are arranged

Behind the closed doors, items are usually kept either by format or by collection. If you don't work there, it's difficult to explain and not worth anyone's time to read about here, so what you need to know is that you should ask the staff there if they have anything about your topic. They will know to check all kinds of formats for you. 

Topics to consider

  • National movements on a local level (Prohibition, WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Women's Movement, refugee crises, etc)
  • Local manufacturing that might have led to movements or strikes (breweries, The La Crosse Rubber Mills, The Pearl Button Company, Gundersen Lutheran, etc)
  • Local conflicts based on race, religion, politics, gender, etc. 


  • Photographs and postcards
  • School yearbooks
  • Student organization files
  • Personal letter collections
  • Business collections
  • Oral histories
  • Newspapers
  • Children's books

Example: The Martindale sisters letter collection

The Katharine Martindale Family Papers is a very large collection of personal correspondence among family members of a one of the oldest and most prominent families of La Crosse, the Martindale family. Letters between two of the sisters, Katharine and Henrietta, show protest rhetoric in handwritten form. These two young women lived at the beginning of the 20th century, when women were pushing boundaries against society and traditional family structure. Henrietta was the entrepreneurial free spirit sister, and Katharine the dutiful peace keeper who gave up a career to return home and take care of the family. Here is a website to explore and see images of letters and photos of the people who wrote them. 

Here are a few examples of what kinds of themes appear in the letters: a young woman voicing her opinion about the U.S.A. entering WWI, her inability to conform to how she thinks early 20th century society and her parents want her to be, WI politics at the time, her driving desire to carve our her own destiny, her questionable life choices, single mothers living before the time of the Welfare Program. 



Example: 1920 strikes at the Rubber Mills factory in La Crosse

There were violent city-wide strikes in La Crosse in 1920. The Rubber Mills, a factory that had employed generations of La Crosse citizens, was no exception. You can find contextual background information and other primary source material, such as this oral history (transcribed and recorded). Further searching will bring you images or protest signs and other written information in the vertical files, found in Special Collections.


Searching guidelines:

From there...



Example: Local events or news items

The Ten Commandments monument in La Crosse's public park, Cameron Park, has had a long history of conflict in La Crosse. Stakeholders on both sides have protested the presence of the monument since it was first set up. The issues of free speech, religion, separation of state and church have consistently been brought up, protested, defended, and interpreted in courts at various levels.      

Other examples


Other Digitized Collections

Free Online Digitized Collections