On Ouisconsin: An Illustrated Historical Catalogue

15-drawer catalogue

The entire fake history of Ouisconsin is housed in these 15 drawers. The artwork is not currently on display.

History is memory, which means that it can be molded by observers’ prejudices and politics. Fake history is the flip side of fake news.

One way to challenge the assertion that “only (I/we) know the truth of what happened” is to deliberately distort historical fact. Skewering history forces us to question claims about the real world. Inventing historical facts or stretching them to absurd degrees reveals how easily history can be corrupted.

On Ouisconsin: An Illustrated Historical Catalogue contains brief highlights of an alternate history of our beloved state. My hope for this fond but irreverent “re-imagining” is to stimulate a search for more accurate depictions of historical truth.

So, here is a sample of an alternate history of our beloved state, reimagined fondly but irreverently in the hope of stimulating surprise and a search for more accurate depictions of truth.

[Excerpts from Drawer 1: “Paleo-Pioneers” follow:]

According to the current anthropological model, humans first arrived in North America over the geologically temporary “bridge to nowhere” from present-day Siberia. Their most recent migration is estimated to have occurred 12,000 to 13,000 years ago, long enough to establish permanent claim to the land if these aboriginal settlers had had the prudence to purchase title insurance from a reputable agent. This reckless oversight would come back to haunt them, big time…

Upon arriving from the north, the first Americans set about preparing the land as a birthright for the Europeans to come by killing off the dangerous mastodon and manufacturing the arrowheads and spear points that would become the basis of a thriving souvenir industry. To this day, the descendants of these first immigrants left their mark on the geographic swath that came to be known as Ouisconsin (“the land of mumbled apologies”).

Stone cutting tool

ARTIFACT (Drawer 1): Pivoted, percussion-flaked stone cutting tool, circa 9,000 BCE, exhibiting the reddish-yellow pigmented handles characteristic of the paleo-Ouisconsin squatters who called themselves Fiskaars.

In general, humans seem to have a genetic need to explore the world by poking around. The design of On Ouisconsin appeals to what might be called the “snooping gene”, a holdover from our gatherer origins. Even the most haphazard gift wrapping prolongs the delicious anticipation of “the thought that counts”. A chest of many drawers offers the viewer one gift after another.

Foam finger

ARTIFACT (Drawer 11): Missing punctuation on this irregular foam
fan finger inadvertently reinforces Ouisconsinites’ paradoxically low levels of self-esteem.

[Drawer categories:]
Drawer 1: Paleo-Pioneers
Drawer 2: Settlers
Drawer 3: Famous Ouisconsinites
Drawer 4: Disavowed Ouisconsinites
Drawer 5: State Secrets
Drawer 6: Official Symbols
Drawer 7: Tourist Attractions
Drawer 8: Beer
Drawer 9: Inventions
Drawer 10: State Slogans
Drawer 11: State Firsts
Drawer 12: Agriculture
Drawer 13: Popular Culture
Drawer 14: Ouisconsin Saga
Drawer 15: Trivi-Addendum

2 thoughts on “On Ouisconsin: An Illustrated Historical Catalogue

  1. Hi Philip— Someone (I think my old friend James Danky, former Special Collections Librarian at the Wis. State Historical Society) a while back sent me a one-sided postcard about “On Ouisconsin,” which intrigued me as a former cheesehead and humor buff. I went on line and found the sneak preview of drawer #1 (the hilarious Fiskaars artifact) but there don’t appear to be any further drawer contents accessible online. Since I’m now living in faraway New England and can’t examine the physical drawers, is there a book, hidden web site, or another way a curious expatriate can see the humorous mysteries within??? —Denis

    • Alas, Denis, the rest of On Ouisconsin exists only offline. I know that an online version could be done, but it would deprive the reader of the physical sensation of uncovering secrets (what I call the appeal of the “snooping gene”.) If you ever visit the state when the catalogue is not on display, I would be honored to give you private access to the real thing.

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