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Cold War University

Madison and the New Left in the Sixties

Matthew Levin

Publication Year: 2013

As the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated in the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government directed billions of dollars to American universities to promote higher enrollments, studies of foreign languages and cultures, and, especially, scientific research. In Cold War University, Matthew Levin traces the paradox that developed: higher education became increasingly enmeshed in the Cold War struggle even as university campuses became centers of opposition to Cold War policies. The partnerships between the federal government and major research universities sparked a campus backlash that provided the foundation, Levin argues, for much of the student dissent that followed. At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, one of the hubs of student political activism in the 1950s and 1960s, the protests reached their flashpoint with the 1967 demonstrations against campus recruiters from Dow Chemical, the manufacturers of napalm. Levin documents the development of student political organizations in Madison in the 1950s and the emergence of a mass movement in the decade that followed, adding texture to the history of national youth protests of the time. He shows how the University of Wisconsin tolerated political dissent even at the height of McCarthyism, an era named for Wisconsin's own virulently anti-Communist senator, and charts the emergence of an intellectual community of students and professors that encouraged new directions in radical politics. Some of the events in Madison—especially the 1966 draft protests, the 1967 sit-in against Dow Chemical, and the 1970 Sterling Hall bombing—have become part of the fabric of "The Sixties," touchstones in an era that continues to resonate in contemporary culture and politics.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

There are many people who assisted with and supported this project over several years. I would like to thank Tony Michels and Jeremi Suri especially for their longstanding encouragement and for helping me focus my ideas and writing. Many people shared generously in recounting memories of Madison in the 1950s and 1960s, ...

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pp. 3-14

It was a warm spring afternoon on May 16, 1966, the day of the first large- scale confrontation between students and administrators at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Known afterward simply as the “draft sit-in,” the confrontation came on the heels of a failed meeting between university president Fred Harvey Harrington and leaders of a recently formed student group, ...

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1. Cold War University: Higher Education after World War II

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pp. 15-42

Standing before the University of Wisconsin’s graduating class of 1948, General Omar Bradley, hero of World War II and a key player in the 1944 invasion of Normandy, spoke with a determined gravity. That summer, there were many reasons to be pessimistic about the future, and the events that had shaken the world over the past several months and years ...

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2. “Let the rascal speak”: McCarthyism and Student Political Activity in the Fifties

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pp. 43-72

When Jeffry Kaplow arrived at the University of Wisconsin in September 1952, he was a freshman from Brooklyn, one of several hundred students from New York at the university that year. Like many of those students, he also had an interest in politics; his mother, a seamstress and Communist Party sympathizer, ...

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3. “A constant struggle with ideas”: Intellectual Community in the Sixties

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pp. 73-109

As the 1960s dawned, Madison was one of a small number of places in the country where students were struggling toward a new left. Though its shape and future direction remained inchoate, young radicals were disillusioned with the status quo, skeptical of America’s aggressive Cold War policies, and doubtful about liberals’ commitment to civil liberties and civil rights. ...

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4. “I can’t be calm, cool, and detached any longer”: The Beginnings of a Mass Movement

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pp. 110-135

At the end of the 1950s, Madison possessed a number of factors that would be crucial to the development of a powerful protest movement in the next decade: a tradition of student radicalism; a relatively tolerant administration; a number of charismatic and unorthodox professors; a critique of American politics and foreign policy; ...

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5. “We must stop what we oppose”: Dow

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pp. 136-159

Dow,” as it came to be known by Madison activists and others, was the culmination of the paradoxes of Cold War–era higher education at the University of Wisconsin. Blending together protests against the war in Vietnam, the role of corporations in supplying the American military, and especially the university for its part in the “war machine,” ...

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6. Endings and Beginnings: The New Left in the Late Sixties

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pp. 160-182

October 1967 was a climax of the tensions in Cold War–era higher education that had been building for more than two decades, but it was hardly the end of the New Left in Madison. Protests continued to shake the Wisconsin campus for the next several years, spurred by the continuing war in Vietnam and the persistent critique of the university’s ties to the Cold War; ...


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pp. 183-218


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pp. 219-224

Studies in American Thought and Culture

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pp. 234-235

E-ISBN-13: 9780299292836
E-ISBN-10: 0299292835
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299292843
Print-ISBN-10: 0299292843

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 24 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 867740074
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cold War University

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • University of Wisconsin -- Political activity -- History.
  • University of Wisconsin--Madison -- Political activity -- History.
  • New Left -- Wisconsin -- Madison -- History.
  • Students -- Political activity -- Wisconsin -- Madison -- History -- 20th century.
  • Madison (Wis.) -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Madison (Wis.) -- History -- 20th century.
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