University of Wisconsin–Madison

History Department Catalogue Archive

Course Catalogues 1852-1996 – Staff Directories 1929-1960

Catalogue Listings in Historical Instruction at UW-Madison, 1852-1996

This collection contains scans of the course offerings in History as listed in the college catalogue at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from 1852-1996. Instruction in history went through three phases. The first phase lasted from 1854 until 1892, and during this time, history, like all other subjects, was not part of an autonomous department. Rather, students had the option to pick between various four-year courses of study and there was a good deal of experimentation with the types of courses of study on offer. At the start, there was just a general “college course of study” and historical instruction was limited to courses in Greek and Roman history. As time passed, the courses of study proliferated to include: commerce, English, modern classical training, general science, a “woman’s course,” and even one called “The civic-historical course antecedent to law and journalism” (1889-90). All of these four-year courses contained some historical instruction. Generally, as the number of courses of study proliferated the scanned material is limited to the “Arts” course because this area contained the most historical instruction. The other courses, while interesting, offered classes that were redundant to the Arts course.

In the 1890-91 and 1891-92 school years, the Catalogue of the University of Wisconsin listed the History Department as its own free-standing unit, with two professors, Frederick Jackson Turner and Charles Homer Haskins. This was short-lived, however, and by the 1892-93 school year, the History Department was subsumed by the “School of Economics, Political Science, and History.” According to the catalogue, this “School” was its own entity in the same way the “School of Pharmacy,” the “College of Law,” and the “College of Letters and Science” were. During these years, the catalogue shows how instruction in History, along with Political Science and Economics, was part of the UW’s Progressive Era tradition of taking knowledge outside the borders of the classroom as well as pursuing knowledge for its own sake. The catalogue declared that, instruction in these subjects was for those who “wish[ed] to enter the public service” as well as those who wished to “undertake original investigations.” (1895-96). Also during this time, the UW began training students for the Ph.D. degree in History.

History separated into its own “School” in 1900 and remained that way until the 1903-04 academic year. At this time, the History Department became part of the College of Letters and Science, where it has remained until the present day. In 1903, the Department consisted of eight professors and students could choose from courses in ancient history, European history, and American history. By 1996, the catalogue listed fifty-seven professors who offered courses ranging from Latin paleography to history of the family in the US to the history of North Africa to the social and intellectual history of China, 1911-1949. While the amount of courses proliferated and the institutional structure changed, the UW has maintained a commitment to undergraduate instruction in History from at least the 1850s and modern graduate training since the1890s, making it one of the oldest of such departments in the United States.

The catalogues record not just the chronology of the History Department but they also help situate the importance of historical instruction within various moments in time. For example, as the catalogues of the 1890s justified history, in part, as training for the public service, it is interesting to note how the History Department has described the importance of historical instruction over time. One can see how History was justified as: “indispensible to the education of civilized men and women” during the Cold War, to the “well-wrought story” cobbled together from data “in Africa” as well as “the US”, during the growing multi-cultural awareness of the 1990s, to the 1960 catalogue which helpfully notes that historical study is among the things that “distinguish them [humans] from animals.” By looking at these documents with an eye towards their context, one can see how the catalogues offer a window onto how History itself has evolved since the 1850s.

Unfortunately, not all of the scans in this collection are of equal quality. Moreover, this collection is not entirely complete. The scans from the earliest period are of the lowest quality. In some instances, this is because some of the originals themselves are in bad condition. Other times, the scans are made from photocopies of the original catalogue. (As we are able to find better originals, we will make better scans). Moreover, this collection is missing the academic years: 1872-73, 1879-80, 1880-81, 1896-97, 1899-1900, 1904-05, and 1929-1930. Finally, this collection does not contain catalogues for the years 1996 until the present. In 1996, the course listing began its migration to the internet and the college catalogues have been archived in hyperspace. These catalogues are archived webpages so that the 1996 catalogue is a 1996 website. While, this is an interesting way to see the evolution of the internet, one should bear in mind that the websites are a bit cumbersome to navigate. They can be accessed at here.

Todd Dresser
PhD Candidate
U.S. History