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A national grant allows UW students to pursue inventive historical research

A portrait photo of Axell Boomer standing outside and looking at the camera.

Axell Boomer, a senior from South Beloit, Illinois, is one of 19 students across the country to receive a Beinecke Scholarship this year. He is studying history and religious studies with honors in liberal arts and honors in history. He expects to graduate in the spring of 2025 and plans to pursue a doctorate in history.

In his undergraduate research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Axell Boomer expanded on the adage that “history is written by the victors.” His scholarship examines how history is also written by the worshippers of overcomers.

“I am interested in the formation and reproduction of American historical memory, and how Christian Americans have circumvented the idolatry of secular figures,” Boomer wrote in a statement about his research.

It’s a line of research that has led to numerous academic awards for Boomer, the latest of which is a 2024 Beinecke Scholarship.

The Beinecke Scholarship Program was established in 1971 by the Sperry and Hutchinson Company to support the graduate education of students of exceptional promise. Each award provides $35,000 for graduate study in the arts, humanities or social sciences.

Boomer, a senior from South Beloit, Illinois, is one of 19 students nationwide to receive a Beinecke Scholarship this year. He is studying history and religious studies with honors in liberal arts and honors in history. He expects to graduate in the spring of 2025 and plans to pursue a doctorate in history.

Boomer says an AP US history course in high school sparked his interest in exploring the ways people understand their communities based on the history they have been told. Since the fall of 2022, he has been developing a history of greater Rockton, Illinois, an area in which he analyzes how his hometown’s parades, school culture, historical reenactments, and sculptures have “communicated a false narrative about the removal of indigenous people, thereby absolving settler-colonials of responsibility. for indigenous genocide.”

The work began as a second-year thesis, for which Boomer received the History Department’s Andrew Bergman Writing Prize for the best undergraduate thesis written for a history course. The article is expected to be published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society in 2025. This month, Boomer will present it at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association’s annual conference in Bodø, Norway.

Boomer is currently working on a master’s thesis analyzing the commemoration and veneration of Abraham Lincoln among American Christians.

“Axell is one of the most gifted and talented students I have taught in my 21-year teaching career,” said Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, the Merle Curti and Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor of History and Boomer’s senior thesis advisor. “His intellectual talents are matched by a seriousness, thirst for learning and humility that make him an outstanding scientist and an absolute pleasure to work with.”

In addition, Boomer is a research assistant to Matt Villeneuve, an assistant professor of history and American Indian Studies, on a project examining the history of a former federal Indian boarding school. Boomer is also an intern at the UW-Madison History Department’s Nonviolence Project, where he researches and writes publicly accessible histories that are published on the project’s website.

“Axell’s academic achievements are already extraordinary,” said Julie Stubbs, director of the UW-Madison Office of Undergraduate Academic Awards. “The Beinecke Scholarship, one of the most prestigious undergraduate awards in the country, will allow him to continue his new research. As an institution, we couldn’t be happier for him and more proud of the work he has done here.”

Outside of class, Boomer is a house fellow and host of a show on WSUM student radio that engages audiences in discussions about historical protest movements through historical music.

The latest Beinecke Scholars from UW-Madison were Lauren Schilling (psychology and educational studies, 2020), Brontë Mansfield (art history and English, 2014) and Joanna Lawrence (anthropology, 2013). A complete list of UW-Madison winners can be found online.

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