Timeline – 1905 – The Wisconsin Idea

Wisconsin Idea Logo“The policy of the University is to recognize its primary duty to the people of Wisconsin, by discovering new truth, and rendering it available, indirectly, by the instruction of University students, and directly, by its publications, and by operating through the various organs of the Extension movement in the State.”   Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Extension Work of the University of Wisconsin” (1893), 323-324.

The principle that education should influence and improve people’s lives well beyond the university became known in the early 20th century as “The Wisconsin Idea,” first articulated by UW President Charles R. Van Hise in 1905 and captured in the title of a 1912 book by the chief of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Department (later, Bureau).

UW historians have a long tradition of “outreach” to broader constituencies that extends back to the late 19th century, when faculty in the School of Economics, Political Science, and History regularly taught extension courses. Frederick Jackson Turner was particularly energetic in supporting the “extension movement” at the UW in the 1890s.

On the history of historians’ relations with their publics, see Ian R. Tyrrell, Historians in Public (2005).

Sources: “The Wisconsin Idea,” UW-Madison; UWH-1, 640, 721-724; Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Extension Work of the University of Wisconsin,” Handbook of University Extension, ed. George Francis James (1893), 311-324.