Timeline – 1867-1889 The UW’s First Historian

William Francis Allen (1830-1889)
William Francis Allen (1830-1889)

In 1867, when there were only a handful of academic positions in History in the U.S., William Francis Allen joined the UW faculty as Professor of Ancient Languages and History. Although a distinguished specialist in ancient and medieval history, he was also co-author of Slave Songs of the United States (1867), which grew out of his work with the Freedmen’s Aid Commission and the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War.

Allen’s courses emphasized the use of primary sources and a “problem” approach, rather than chronology. He took an expansive view of history, moving beyond political history to encompass geography as well as social and economic history, often in comparative perspective. He and his students called attention to the importance of the West in American history and brought the UW national recognition in the emerging discipline of history.

On the remarkable topical breadth of historical research in the U.S. before World War II, see Ellen F. Fitzpatrick, History’s Memory: Writing America’s Past, 1880-1980 (2002).

Sources: “Allen, William Francis 1830-1889,” Wisconsin Historical Society; UWH-1, 345-347.