A 2013, collaborative historical exhibit in Neenah that focused on Cold War culture in America and atomic-age hysteria earned an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History.
The Nashville, Tenn.-based Association announced late last month that the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh History Department’s collaborative exhibit with the Neenah Historical Society, titled “Take Cover, Neenah: Backyard Family Fallout Shelters in Cold War America,” earned the honor.
“This award is an honor and an acknowledgement of the community-educational value such an outstanding collaboration between our UW Oshkosh History Department’s students and faculty and a local historical society had,” UW Oshkosh Department of History Prof. Stephen Kercher said. “We are extremely proud of the role our students played and the knowledge they gained in helping research and assemble this unique exhibit that focused on such an anxious era in American history.”
The joint effort to create the exhibit was also fueled by a $2,000 Wisconsin Humanities Council grant.
The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) describes itself as “a not-for-profit professional organization of individuals and institutions working to preserve and promote history.” The AASLH provides leadership, service, and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful in American society. AASLH also publishes books, technical publications, a quarterly magazine, and monthly newsletter. The association also sponsors regional and national training workshops and an annual meeting.
The organization’s Leadership in History Awards, now in its 69th year, is “the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.”
This year, the AASLH conferred 77 national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, books, and organizations. “The winners represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history,” the organization announced in June.
The 2013 UW Oshkosh-Neenah Historical Society collaborative exhibit was largely rooted in the discovery of a family, nuclear fallout shelter tucked beneath the yard of a Neenah residence owned by UW Oshkosh English graduate student Carol Hollar-Zwick, who also contributed to the staging of the exhibit.
Hollar-Zwick and her husband, Ken Zwick, first opened the 1960s-era shelter years after they originally moved into their home. Inside the bunker, various supply cases were still floating on top of pooled water. The vintage foodstuff boxes and other containers and items in the cases were relatively preserved and became part of the exhibit. A replica of the 8-feet-by-10-feet shelter was also created for the exhibit.
The originality of the subject, and the increasingly rare discovery of preserved fallout shelters, earned the exhibit local, national and international attention. It received write-ups in USA Today and the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail along with regional TV coverage.
The AASLH will present the awards at a special banquet during the 2014 AASLH Annual Meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Friday, September 19. The banquet is supported by a generous contribution from the History Channel. Kercher and Jane Lang, Neenah Historical Society Director, will accept the Merit award at the event.
The AASLH awards program was initiated in 1945 to establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of state and local history throughout the United States. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards not only honor significant achievement in the field of state and local history, but also bring public recognition of the opportunities for small and large organizations, institutions, and programs to make contributions in this arena.
*The AASLH contributed to this story.