The Catholepistemiad

In order to understand the history of the University of Michigan, it is necessary to explore the contexts and people which made it the institution it is today.  Rather than simply present the dates that important buildings were constructed or list only the greatest achievements at the university, the following is a presentation explaining the factors underlying some of the significant moments at Michigan, both in times of trouble and glory.  This is the history of the University of Michigan.
The story begins with the little known period in the University’s history when it was based in Detroit.  Although U of M has become synonymous with Ann Arbor, it is in Detroit where its origins actually lie and the reason that the University of Michigan seal bears the year 1817 rather than 1837 when it was organized in Ann Arbor.  It is essential to point this out because in 1856 the Supreme Court of Michigan concluded that the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor had benefited from the original incarnation at Detroit in 1817 (Shaw, 7).
In 1817, Detroit was a fledgling capitol of the Territory of Michigan.  The city's population numbered less than 1500.  Most of its inhabitants were French-Canadian, with a few American and British settlers.  Native Americans made up the remainder of the population (Bordin, 2).
The people of Detroit had been through many hardships.  Detroit was still recovering from an 1805 fire which swept through and leveled all but two structures in the city (Sagendorph, 36).  Moreover, just five years earlier, the War of 1812 had also taken its toll on the inhabitants of the territory (Bordin, 2).  There likely remained bitter feelings between American, British, and Indigenous people, hindering cooperation amongst them.  The territory had many obstacles yet to overcome and scars to heal.

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