Milwaukee’s Guiding Name

Every day in our classrooms and our world we encounter dominant narratives. Sometimes we experience them without knowing, other times we are hyper aware they are there. To clarify any confusion, a dominant narrative is a story or explanation that people tell about an event, a person, or a topic. The Milwaukee community is full of dominant narratives that we are typically not aware of. Not only is the city broken down into hundreds of little communities, all those communities have a history and this overarching theme that they are guided by. Our Milwaukee community and history has been defined by our beer. The breweries throughout the city are endless which means our city has taken on the reputation of a lot of drinking because of that. However, once you are a citizen of this community, we know Milwaukee is so much more than that.

Our history of Milwaukee is followed around with this title of a “drunk city”. Articles such as, “A Quick, Drunk History of Milwaukee” continue to support this dominant narrative that Milwaukee is a drunk community . However, articles that show Milwaukee in this light simply scratch the surface of this city. Milwaukee is home to much more than beer! Our city is full of culture, history, and a diversity of people. We need to start questioning this narrative and showing where the flaws and biases are. The story is full of them; we just need to begin to ask: How did Milwaukee take on this title of “beer capital of the world”? How has it benefitted us? How has this story dragged the city down? How can we, as a community, begin to show that we are not a city made of beer? These questions are important for us to ask in order to re-frame our narrative.


I mentioned earlier, the counter-narratives of our community; such as our culture, history, diversity of people, our work ethic, our arts, and so much more. This community gives back in ways people do not always see. For example, in September, Milwaukee hosted the Walk to End Alzheimers. For two miles, our community walked to end a bigger cause than just this city. Not only are we a giving community, but we are full of culture. The Milwaukee Art Museum has hosted exhibits from Frank Lloyd Wright, Helen Levitt, Rembrandt, Ralston Crawford, and so many more. By beginning to teach a broader idea and history of Milwaukee, this negative dominant narrative falls away. Teaching about the beer and “drunk Milwaukee” might not be the best topic to talk to a class about, but there are plenty of other dominant narratives your class can question and analyze together. As we begin to teach and critique these topics we need to keep in mind the sources we are looking at. By teaching our students to think critically about certain sources, and ask, “Where is the bias?”, “Whose perspective does this represent”, “What is the evidence” and many more questions, we can discern which are credible sources.

We have to critique the common history stories and what is in the textbook in order to find what truly is happening within a community. For example, in class we read a piece by Alexander Cuenca and Joseph R. Nichols, Jr., it said, “Our charge in social studies education is to prepare students to examine the forces that shape their lives” (Cuenca, 249). What that means, is we have to educate on students deeper than what the textbooks tell us. The history within those book can be biased and sometimes even true. Yes, we do not need to teach a group of 1st graders on every gruesome detail that happened between Native American and the white men but they do need to know it was not just simply a “happy” Thanksgiving! We have to teach our students to look at history from an unbiased perspective and question what is in front of them. It can be hard, as educators, to find what is worth teaching because, lets be honest…if I could teach everything I WOULD. But we can’t, so we need to discern what is vital to teach our students to break away from these dominant narratives.

We have to show them sources where they can find information they need to look objectively at pieces and ask authentic questions about the work. To be able to do so, we need the necessary sources.

Check out pieces such as:

-The Milwaukee Art Museum

You can investigate all past exhibits they have had on show at the museum as well at looking at current pieces. This also gives the class the opportunity to research types of artists within their community and artists who have impacted the city as well.

-RedLine Milwaukee

This is another Milwaukee museum that was co-founded by Steve Vande Zande and Lori Bauman. This museum is home to art pieces curated and created by local Milwaukee artists. This source can give students the opportunity to discover unknown artists within their city while also learning about social justice issues that are effecting their community.

-Milwaukee Historical Society

Here, students can find reliable information on Milwaukee city and county. The site also gives the opportunity to look through manuscripts, information on organizations, businesses, and much more. This along with the two sources mentioned before, can be visited in Milwaukee. Students have the opportunity to physically visit the places where history has taken place and is still happening today.

Teaching our students about Milwaukee’s history is important but we need to be able to question what is happening in our history. Our classes need to work to discern what truly has impacted us and how we can change those negatives outlooks that might not hold truth within our community any longer. The Milwaukee community is constantly evolving and changing as time goes on, it is our job, as educators, to help our students learn more and dig deeper in our story.