Spotlight Shines on William Cronon

As we reported here just a few days back, William Cronon - University of Wisconsin–Madison history professor, author of Nature's Metropolis, and CNU 19 Opening Plenary speaker - has attracted a fair amount of attention recently due to his widely circulated New York Times op-ed, and a blog he wrote on his website. In detailing some of the machinations that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his party have orchestrated of late, it seems all of the readers attracted towards Cronon's in-depth and nuanced pieces have drawn even more, albeit perhaps unwanted, attention towards his name.

Doing no favor to quell the allusions to McCarthyism, as alluded to in Cronon's NYT article, the Wisconsin Republican Party has subpoenaed the University of Madison for the all the email records from Cronon's university account. If the party's intention was to quiet Cronon's output and the reaction to it, it certainly chose the wrong method for doing so, with Paul Krugman, Slate, and The Atlantic, to name just a few, all paying heed to the issue.

No matter how this story unfolds, one of the central characters is the City of Madison itself. As both the capital city and flagship of the University of Wisconsin system, Madison plays a central role in the shaping and debating of the ideas being, sometimes belligerently, discussed and fought. Madison showcases how high levels of civic discussion happen in places of close proximity. All the defining players in the story - Cronon, Walker, the Koch Brothers, Stephan Thompson of the Republican Party of Wisconsin,  the protesting unions, etc. - are congregated in the same central place. Urbanism encourages ideas. Even conflicting ideas. This still unfolding story, despite its ominous tones, is a testament to that.   

 

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