© 2023 by Holding History


Holding History is an interdisciplinary public outreach program at UW-Madison dedicated to mentoring the next generation of public scholars, thinkers, and writers. 


At its core, it is the Wisconsin Idea in action: the program not only welcomes public audiences into bookish conversations about how cultural knowledge is recorded, passed along, and preserved, but also provides a forum for training students (with majors ranging from English to Astrophysics) to share their knowledge and the resources of the campus with our broader community.

The most distinctive feature of the Holding History program is its interactive, mentoring-driven public engagement model. Public programming is often centered around a scholar’s particular expertise and delivered in a lecture format, with audience interaction taking place in a brief Q&A session at the end. Holding History flips this “sage on the stage” model: we mentor and coach undergraduate students as they invite community members to turn the pages of a 400-year-old book or to get their hands wet in a papermaking vat.

Program support for Holding History is provided by the UW-Madison Libraries, Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries, and the UW-Madison Division of the Arts.


Joshua Calhoun

Joshua Calhoun, Co-Director of Holding History, is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in Shakespeare, 16th- and 17th-century poetry, and the history of media. As a Faculty Affiliate at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, he also teaches courses in the environmental humanities. In his teaching and research, he gets to explore three things he loves (and thinks everyone else should love, too): Shakespeare, old books, and nature. His work has been published in PMLA, Shakespeare Studies, and Environmental Philosophy. His first book, The Nature of the Page: Poetry, Papermaking, and Ecology in Renaissance England, is forthcoming from the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2019.  @awayandback / joshuacalhoun.org

Sarah Marty

Sarah Marty, Co-Director of Holding History, is a Faculty Affiliate at UW Division of the Arts, Professor of Arts Management at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Program Director for the Madison Early Music Festival, and Producing Artistic Director for Four Seasons Theatre. As a producer she enjoys collaborating with campus and community partners, whether working with the Director of the Marching Band for the UW Varsity Band Show or welcoming the Dalai Lama to the Overture Center for the Arts. A trained musician and stage manager, she recently recorded a Swissconsin album of accordion music with her grandmother, a project that was featured in Wisconsin Public Television's Wisconsin Life.



Robert Possehl

Itinerant imagist, community collaborator, and educator Robert Possehl is best known for his place-based papermaking projects such as the Black Hawk Paper Trail Project, a body of work that gives voice to the landscapes’ memory through fibers harvested from significant sites along the 700-mile trail. Since 2014, Possehl has collaborated with Calhoun on various educational projects focused on giving students hands-on lessons in the history of papermaking. Possehl’s papermaking session with our Holding History team in July 2015 is the focus of a short documentary, “Hand & Paper." Possehl has an MFA in book and paper arts from Columbia College and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.