“When Wisconsin planted the seeds of learning on the shores of Lake Mendota … the term ‘state university’ … implied that providing for higher education was a vital function of society; that the most suitable agency in the United States to perform this function was the state …; that the state university should crown the whole system of public education …; that the recipients of higher education in a democratic civilization should be not an intellectual elite, but all citizens capable of benefiting from such training; and that the curriculum of a state-supported institution of higher education should embody not only the scholarly purposes of traditional institutions but the professional and practical needs of the citizenry, individually and collectively.”
With these words, the distinguished UW historians Merle Curti and Vernon Carstensen summarized the conceptual context in which the UW was founded. Curti and Carstensen were co-authors of the first two volumes of a comprehensive, four-volume history of the UW through 1945—The University of Wisconsin: A History (University of Wisconsin Press). Vols. 1-2, published in 1949, cover the years 1848-1925; vol. 3 (1925-1945) and vol. 4 (1945-1971) appeared in 1994 and 1999 respectively, co-authored by E. David Cronon and John W. Jenkins.