The Wisconsin Historical Society has hired long-time educator, Vaunce Ashby, to teach adults and children throughout Wisconsin about the state’s unique history.

As director of education, Ashby is responsible for overseeing the Historical Society’s efforts to teach kids and adults more about Wisconsin’s history. Her focus will be engaging people from different backgrounds to make the history of our state interesting for everyone.

Vaunce Ashby
Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin has a diverse history that is not often taught in schools, Ashby said. The history of African Americans, Native American tribes and other minorities are an important part of Wisconsin’s history that are often neglected. Ashby seeks to highlight these aspects of the state’s history.

Ashby said the Wisconsin Historical Society is a prime location to learn about history because there are a variety of resources that allow people to delve into the past. The Historical Society houses an extensive historical library as well as government records, newspapers and other primary documents.

The Historical Society was looking for someone with a background in education as well as knowledge of the interworking of school districts across the state, which Ashby could fill. Previously, Ashby worked for the Department of Public Instruction on the special education team. She focused on developing training that would help educators work with diverse student populations.

As director of education, Ashby said her focus is to connect with kids and adults using culturally responsible practices to teach about the diverse history of Wisconsin.

Sometimes people, especially kids, do not engage with Wisconsin history because they do not see themselves having a role in the state’s history.

“The Historical Society has tons of information, but it has never been pulled together in a way that makes it attractive to specific groups of people,” Ashby said.

Ashby comes from an educational background with little museum experience, but has a deep love for museums. Growing up in Chicago, Ashby said her father loved museums and by the age of 12 she had been to every public museum in Chicago.

As a lover of museums, Ashby said she thought director of education would be an interesting new way to further her career as an educator.

“I am looking to retire in a few years and I am thinking ‘wow, what a cool way to go out in my career to have this kind of impact’,” Ashby said.

Ashby has many ideas for expanding programs that will help teach kids and adults about the history of Wisconsin. One such project is Badger Biography. This project will give teachers books about individuals in Wisconsin history that can give students information about different heritages. These books will also come with a lesson plan to help teachers with the workload that comes with planning lessons.

Adult outreach and education is also an important part of the position, Ashby said. The Historical Society receives many requests for speakers to teach about the history of the state. In the past, organizing speaking events has been inconsistent, Ashby said, but she has assigned a staff member to oversee all speakers to make it easier for community members to take advantage of the Historical Societies resources.

One of the largest challenges of her position, Ashby said, is the large population of people, school districts and opportunities in Wisconsin. The key to success is to work one step at a time.

“To educate the whole state is a big task,” Ashby said. “So at this point, I am taking it in small chunks but my enthusiasm is high and the people here [Wisconsin Historical Society] are great.”