History of the Department

The UW Colleges Department of History traces its origins to 1964 when the Board of Regents and the state legislature approved the establishment of the UW Center System. Prior to that event, the historians who taught at many of the two-year campuses had been members of the UW-Madison History Department. When all the state’s two-year campuses were merged in 1972, the department was merged temporarily with Political Science. In 1979 the two departments were split. The Department of History currently has 20 full-time tenure-track or tenured faculty along with 8 Teaching Academic Staff members, scattered across 13 campuses. This makes it the fourth or fifth largest history department in the University of Wisconsin System.

The Department is responsible for maintaining the academic integrity all of the history courses taught in the UW Colleges. It is also charged with promoting excellence in teaching. Beginning with its active participation in 1979 in the F.I.P.S.E. funded national initiative “Integrating Women into the History survey” the department has been an active promoter of teaching excellence. The department was among the first in the United States to integrate the history of women in all survey courses. The department also has participated in and sponsored conferences on teaching. As a co-sponsor of the 1981 “First Conference on the Teaching of History,” the department promoted the inclusion of groups other than elites in survey courses. In 1988, it co-sponsored with the American Historical Association a conference on “Teaching the War in Vietnam.” That was followed in 1995, again with the co-sponsorship of the AHA, with a conference on the “Nature and Foundation of the Introductory History Course.” All of these conferences were well attended and have promoted and reflected the department’s commitment to teaching.

Teaching innovation has also been a long-standing department commitment. Over the years the department has supported faculty in using non-traditional materials in their courses and developing courses that employ new teaching methods. Currently, the department is engaged in two initiatives to promote student-centered learning. In 1995 the department was instrumental in establishing the University of Wisconsin Student History Network. This dedicated listserv network joins faculty and students, enrolled in survey courses across the state, in an electronic discussion group. Beginning in 1997, hundreds of students have joined in a statewide discussion of important historical issues. In 1998, five members of the department formed the core of a two-year AHA project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, to develop web-based materials for undergraduate instruction. Entitled “Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age,” the project brings together faculty in North Carolina, Southern California, and Wisconsin to develop new ways to electronically bring historical documents into the classroom.

Individual professional development is also a department commitment. The department has recently received its own professional development funds which will allow junior faculty greater access to research support. Over the last decade, the department has been abundantly successful in taping into teaching improvement grants and sabbaticals. During that period of time only twice did the department not have a member on sabbatical. Department members publish books, articles, deliver papers at major conferences and are active members of their communities. A look at the brief member biographies stands as evidence to the professional health of the department.

All of the above activities support and reveal the history department's commitment to providing the best educational opportunities for the students who enroll in our courses. It is a dedication the department will continue to build on in the future.