Bentley Historical Library unveils bibliography of university history


After almost 200 years, it’s inevitable that some parts of the University of Michigan’s history have faded into obscurity. But thanks to a new comprehensive bibliography compiled by the Bentley Historical Library some of those facts are coming back to life.

The project, in honor of the U-M’s bicentennial, is an extension of a bibliography originally compiled in 1936 by Wilfred B. Shaw, who was the director of the U-M Alumni Association and a prolific writer and editor of university history.

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According to Terrence McDonald, director of the Bentley Library, Shaw’s bibliography was compiled in preparation for the centennial of the U-M coming to Ann Arbor. 

“I was honestly astonished to discover that the last comprehensive bibliography of works on the university’s history was prepared in the 1930s,” McDonald said.

“On a recent visit to campus, a very distinguished historian of higher education told us that few universities have invested the time to compile such lists. Our bibliography contains all the elements of a great story: how citizens, elected officials, faculty, staff and students built a world-class university in this state.”

Many strange, enigmatic historical facts can be found within the materials. Here are 10 compiled from “The Michigan Book,” published in 1898:

• In its most formative years, the university’s secretary had a cow whose pasture was part of the official campus, as was an annual crop of hay.

• A fence around the campus erected in 1870 was gone by 1890 because the tradition of “rushes” — that is, throwing people over the fence — led to so many injuries.

• An early seal of the university represented Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom, directing the attention of a young scholar to a temple perched on a mountain. The Latin translates roughly as: Minerva points out the road to follow, and where she shows herself is auspicious.

• The university’s original colors, “azure-blue and maize,” were chosen on Feb. 12, 1867, by members of the literary department (which would later be known as the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts).

• A campus statue of Benjamin Franklin had its coat and breeches frequently painted maize and blue. Made of brittle pewter, Franklin eventually fell completely apart and his remains were buried on campus, though no one knows precisely where.

• Until 1876, the School of Pharmacy (now the College of Pharmacy) was a subdivision of the literary department.

• Each class used to have its own colors. The class of 1888, for example, chose “ruby and silver,” the class of 1889 chose “seal-brown and gold,” and the law class of 1889 chose “pink and Nile-green.”

• Mock commencement programs were printed in the 1860s, until a particularly offensive program resulted in student expulsions and the end of the tradition.

• In 1890, a first-year student named J.J. Denison was killed in a squabble between students and the town’s militia men.

• In 1864, editors of the university’s paper, the Palladium, offered a prize of $10 for a student who could compose an original university song. James Blish, one of the two winners, penned lyrics that included: “All hail! All hail! Her honored name, the pride of all the West!”

In the preface to his bibliography, Shaw noted that many of the items included were out of print.

Thanks to recent digitization initiatives, most of these volumes are now available as digital editions through HathiTrust, and many university-owned electronic resources and public domain titles can be printed on demand through the U-M Library’s Espresso Book Machine (for those on campus) or purchased on Amazon through Michigan Publishing.

As Shaw noted in 1936, it is difficult to compile “a complete list of all publications referring to the University of Michigan.” The Bentley welcomes suggestions and looks forward to discovering and making new additions as U-M prepares to celebrate its bicentennial in 2017.



  1. susan wineberg
    on June 15, 2015 at 4:18 am

    you should include Historic AnnArbor:An Architectural Guide by me and Patrick McCauley. it has histories of 40 University buildings. It was published 2014 by Ann Arbor Historical Foundation . thank you.

  2. John Posch
    on June 15, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    The Latin translates more accurately as: “Minerva points out the path, and let us follow by the way she shows herself favorable.” This actually refers to the successful but ungentlemanly tactic of Aeneas (Aen. 2.388) in donning the enemy’s armor. What message about the University was encoded in this seal I cannot say.

  3. Dale Leslie
    on July 21, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    “Of Dixboro: Lest We Forget” by Carol Willits Freeman (1979) – a wonderfully written book by the late matriarch of the hamlet, Carol Willits Freeman, of Dixboro, located east of Ann Arbor on Plymouth Road in Superior Township. The village was platted in 1826 but was not recorded in the Washtenaw County Register of Deeds until 1828. The founder, a retired sea captain, John Dix, born in Littleton, MA in 1796, had built a house and barn and was living there in June, 1824. A video interview with author Freeman by local historian Dale R. Leslie can be viewed at: (2015)

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