"...human life is affected not only by the environmental forces presently at work in nature but even more perhaps by the past."
Rene Dubos, Mirage of Health, 1959


These digital stories are the result of work undertaken by students in the Spring 2011 CHE Methods Seminar, an interdisciplinary group of students from English, History of Science, Landscape Architecture, Curriculum and Instructional Development, and the Nelson Institute's Environment and Resources Program.

The inspiration for this particular form of stories came from a series, "Climate Wisconsin" produced by Finn Ryan of the Educational Communications Board and video shorts produced by students in conjunction with the Tales from Planet Earth film festival. The projects incorporate methods and skills sets learned in the seminar---from interviews, to archival research, to storytelling - and questions and approaches related to issues of culture, place, and time.

The assignment was for students to develop a digital story related to landscapes of health and illness in Wisconsin that would raise larger issues and themes touched upon in the seminar. The students, working in pairs, discovered some remarkable and surprising stories, forcing us to think about our relationships to places, wildlife, and plants in new ways through the lens of health and illness.

Tonyawatha's Healing Waters

Christopher J. Hommerding and Beckett Horowitz

History is all around us, whether we see it or not. Sometimes it even lies directly underfoot and, with a little knowledge and guidance, we need only glance down and take it in. Such is the case for the history explored here. Built in 1879 and destroyed by fire in 1895, the Tonyawatha Springs Hotel was situated on the opposite shore of Lake Monona from Wisconsin's capital city of Madison. During the summer months the hotel and its natural spring drew visitors from distant cities to the cool, refreshing landscape of Southern Wisconsin. As the centerpiece of the hotel, the spring was thought to have the mineral properties needed to heal a number of ailments and diseases. Indeed, the name Tonyawatha was believed to mean "Healing Waters." With a little help from a local expert, this film documents our encounter with this intriguing historical landscape of health.

What's in a Name?

Andrew Dribin and Stevie Sigan

Since 1972, the city of Edgerton, Wisconsin has held a summer festival to celebrate its tobacco growing heritage. Edgerton, located in Rock and Dane Counties, was once known as the "Tobacco Capital of the World" due to the explosion of tobacco growth at the turn of the twentieth century. As the economy changes, the community must now come to terms with a past maligned by the negative health effects of tobacco use. First called "Tobacco Days," the summer festival changed names to "Tobacco Heritage Days" in the mid-1990s reflecting this economic shift. In 2006, the festival name changed again to "Edgerton Heritage Days" due to pressure to remove tobacco from the title altogether. However, dropping "tobacco" caused confusion and protest among Edgerton residents and a year later, the festival name changed back. This is a short story of community pride, a controversial festival name and the very long history of tobacco and shifting health values in Wisconsin.

Resident Geese

Diana Peterson and Brian Towns

Back from the brink of extinction in the 1960s, Wisconsin's resident goose population now calls many parks like Madison's Vilas Park home. In the summer of 2010, the geese contributed to the closing of Vilas Beach for 43 days. So what should we do? Welcome the birds and share the park? Or, take matters into our own hands and remove the geese? The geese are not going anywhere anytime soon (a goose can live twenty to thirty years). Engaged community members/experts share their understandings of how a wild animal has become the center of a public health dilemma. For many, the geese no longer remind us of Aldo Leopold's romantic notion of "The Return of the Geese" in A Sand County Almanac. And presently, much attention is turning to appropriate ways to manage the geese in order to maintain Vilas Park as a healthy, recreational space.

Living by Fire

Alexandra Rudnick and Nathan Jandl

When you heat with wood, you warm yourself three times: once when you cut it, once when you stack it, and once when you burn it. Given the many convenient options available to keep our homes warm in the winter, why do we continue to heat with wood? Is it an economic choice, an environmental choice, an emotional choice - or a combination of the three? How do we reconcile the environmental impact of particulate emissions from wood burning, the physical labor involved in obtaining wood and building fires, and the pleasure of a woodstove or fireplace in the home? We began with these questions. To help us answer them, we sought the wisdom and knowledge of the coordinator for the Dane County Clean Air Coalition, the master and owner of Fireplace Folks, and a young couple who are learning what it means to live by fire.

Beekeeping in Wisconsin

Sara Randle and Heather Swan

Since 1965, Eugene Woller has been keeping bees in Mt. Horeb, WI. His love of bees and beekeeping has made his life's work joyful, but beekeeping has changed. The life of the bee is in danger. Colony Collapse Disorder, monocropping, varroa mites, and pesticide use have made beekeeping more difficult. Because bees are responsible for pollinating one third of our food supply, it important we do what we can to protect this important insect.

At the Heart of Badger

Marya Johnston-McIntosh and Aleia McCord

Verlyn Mueller worked for 26 years in the instrument shop at the Badger Ordnance Works (also known as the Badger Ammunition Plant). From 1966-1991, Veryln spent his days repairing machinery in the munitions factory while adhering to strict regulations designed to keep workers safe while they handled explosive material. Now retired, Veryln serves as president and archivist for the Badger History Group. But the usual texts and photos aren't the only records of service carefully cataloged by this historian. Verlyn keeps another physical memory of Badger's history in his pocket. In this story, a landscape of danger leaves an indelible mark on the body, transforming a life-threatening occupational hazard into a life-saving medicine. Verlyn reminds us how personal health can become inextricably bound to a certain place and time. Images courtesy of Sauk Historical Society.