One Hundred and Five Years of Classics at Michigan (1841–1946)

a resource of the contexts for classics program

Welcome to the Contexts for Classics resource on the history of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan. This page offers an overview of the study of classical languages and literature for the first century of the University of Michigan. It chronicles the development and expansion of the study of antiquity and presents the work of the students and faculty in an international context.

The First Thirty Years

Drafted on the eighteenth of May, 1837, the founding charter of the University of Michigan called for the establishment of a professorship in Ancient Languages. In September 1841, the Board of Regents appointed Reverend Joseph Whiting, a graduate of Yale University, as Professor of Greek and Latin. Professor Whiting occupied his post until his death in 1845. Just to the east of the Rackham Graduate Library stands a monument, intended as the tombstone of Whiting, with this Latin inscription:


To the Memory of Joseph Whiting A.M. Minister of the Gospel who after he had filled the office of president of an academy of the University of Michigan in exemplary fashion then was selected for the chair of Latin and Greek in that same university. With the unusual affection of all men, he lived forty-five years and died on July 20, 1845. The Regents of the University as the only thing they could do caused this monument to be erected.

Instruction in Greek and Latin during the tenure of Professor Whiting was rigorous and mandatory. All freshmen were expected to read large selections (in Greek) from Xenophon, Thucydides, Herodotus, and Homer, and (in Latin) from Cornelius Nepos, Caesar, Cicero, Sallust, Vergil, as well as the modern patriotic treatise Vita Washingtonii. By their senior year of college, all Michigan students had worked their way through much more of Greek and Latin literature than many of their modern counterparts.

In 1845, the Regents chose the Reverend John Homes Agnew to replace Whiting as Professor of Greek and Latin. He made minor changes to the curriculum, mainly by instituting the study of Plato and the New Testament in Greek. Already by the 1848–1849 academic year, the study of Greek was under assault as major curricular changes were taking place at the university during the presidency of Henry Tappan (Tobin, 2005). Instead of continuing with their study of Greek literature started as freshmen, juniors were required to study both French and Spanish, with Italian being added in the senior year. Towards the end of Agnew’s tenure, he gave up instruction in Latin complaining of overwork, and left the teaching of Latin to two professors of Philosophy. Because of Agnew’s refusal to teach Latin, and his involvement in the establishment of fraternities and secret societies on campus, the Board of Regents removed him from his post in 1851. During the spring term of 1852, for the first and only time in its history, the University of Michigan was without an official instructor in ancient languages.

James Robinson Boise, a graduate of Brown University, replaced Agnew for the fall term of 1852. Hired initially as Professor of Greek and Latin Languages, Boise only taught courses in both languages for one term. His duties were scaled back to teaching only Greek when the Reverend Erastus Otis Haven was hired as Professor of Latin in December, 1852. Haven retained this post for only a year and a half. The division of teaching between Boise and Haven profoundly altered the instruction of Classics at the University of Michigan. For nearly one hundred years, until their merger in 1946 as the Department of Classical Studies, the Department of Greek and the Department of Latin functioned as independent academic units. Although a few instructors taught in both departments, most were limited in their teaching to either Greek or Latin.

Professor Boise continued teaching courses in Ancient Greek until his departure for the University of Chicago in 1868. Under Boise, Greek instruction at Michigan began to take on a broader scope than the simple mastery of the ancient Greek language. On the model of the German gymnasium, he integrated secondary readings into the curriculum in order to deepen the students’ understanding of the Classical authors they were being trained to read. He was regarded as an exact and vigilant scholar, and one of his colleagues remembered him as “the most critical scholar of us all” (Frieze, 1888). Professor Boise was also instrumental in opening the doors of the University of Michigan to women when most universities did not admit female students (Wood, 1896).

Henry Simmons Frieze was hired to replace Erastus Haven by the Board of Regents in the summer of 1854. Instruction in Latin, like instruction in Greek, after the 1848–1849 school year was no longer required during a student’s senior year, the ancient languages being replaced with French, Spanish, or Italian. One of Frieze’s first actions was to have the exclusion of Latin from the senior year repealed. Professor Frieze was also a motivating factor behind the University’s acquisition of antiquities for the Museum of Art and Antiquities, for which he served as curator. Professors Frieze and Boise began courses in teacher training for senior students who wished to become secondary school teachers. This teacher training program may have been the first systematic course in pedagogy in this country. Frieze made important contributions to the Department of Latin until his death in 1889. He now rests in the most remarkable memorial in Forest Hill Cemetery in Ann Arbor, a replica of the famous sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus.

The 1870s and Beyond

The departure of Professor Boise for the University of Chicago in 1868 marked a turning point for the study of Greek and Latin at the University of Michigan. Two professors of Greek were hired in quick succession, and they were to shape the department for nearly the next half century. The first was Martin Luther D’Ooge, who was born in the Netherlands but studied as an undergraduate of the University of Michigan (he had been Boise’s pupil). He was appointed Assistant Professor of Greek by the Board of Regents in September, 1867. For the next forty-five years, with only brief intervals for overseas study or teaching, Professor D’Ooge remained a member of University of Michigan’s Department of Greek. Like many of the Greek professors before him (e.g., Whiting, Agnew, Boise), D’Ooge had been hired as an Assistant Professor without his doctorate. But unlike his predecessors, D’Ooge continued his education and earned his doctorate. He took a leave of absence from the University of Michigan in 1870, and completed his doctorate in 1872 with the linguist Georg Curtius at Leipzig, Germany. Had D’Ooge gone to Germany to study a mere two years earlier, he would have been a fellow student of Friedrich Nietzsche, who left Leipzig in 1869. Albert Henderson Pattengill was the other professor hired in the wake of Boise’s departure. He was appointed by the Board of Regents in 1869 as Assistant Professor of Greek and French. Like Martin D’Ooge, he remained loyal to the University of Michigan for the next forty or so years, and finally retired as a full Professor of Greek a year before his death in 1906. Although less influential as a scholar than D’Ooge, Pattengill remained a significant force in the Department of Greek for nearly forty years.

D’Ooge’s training in Germany was instrumental for an important broadening of the Classics curriculum at the University of Michigan. D’Ooge (and others) began to teach classes on larger themes rather than individual authors. Thus one could now enroll in courses on “Greek Tragedy,” or the “History of Greek Literature,” or even the “History of Classical Scholarship.” Focus on subdisciplines within the Classics made a departure from the traditional courses on individual authors. D’Ooge’s linguistic training in Germany also led to a course on “Historical Greek Grammar” in which he required that his students learn the rudiments of Sanskrit. Even the courses on individual authors began to take into account Greek poets that were considered ‘uncanonical’ (e.g., Theocritus, Callimachus, Lucian, etc.) and were often excluded from the traditional curriculum. Under D’Ooge emphasis continued to be placed on the training of teachers for the secondary schools. The Latin curriculum was expanded as well; Cornelius Nepos and the Vita Washingtonii were supplanted by the letters of Pliny the Younger and Seneca, Plautus, Martial, and Lucretius.

D’Ooge’s training in Germany also led to an interest in archaeology. As early as the 1883–1884 academic year, D’Ooge taught a course entitled “Homeric Antiquities”. And this is hardly coincidental for the preceding decade had seen the publication of Heinrich Schliemann’s Troy and its Remains (London, 1875), Mycenae (London, 1878), and Ilios: The City and Country of the Trojans (London, 1880). The international educated public took notice of the rediscovery of the Greek Bronze Age, due in large to Schliemann’s superhuman efforts of self-publication, and Michigan students were surely interested in learning more about this period of Greek prehistory as it was unfolding.

D’Ooge’s reputation as a well-rounded Classicist led to his selection as the director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens for the year 1886–1887, the fifth year of the School’s existence. While in Athens, D’Ooge became acquainted with Heinrich Schliemann and Wilhelm Dörpfeld, whose Homeric researches had been of such interest to him. During D’Ooge’s directorship, the cornerstone of the School’s main building was laid with a ceremony that included the slaughter of a rooster. Since the building remains in use to this day, the sacrifice was apparently well received. In Greece D’Ooge himself led excursions to sites near Athens and through the Peloponnesus, and arranged for the excavation of the theater at Sicyon. D’Ooge was unsparing in his praise of the school’s mission:

“Greek literature and history will have a new meaning, and Greek art a fresh beauty, to him who has been so fortunate as to spend even a few months amid the inspiring associations of Greece, with the aids and direction afforded by our School at Athens….I, for one, cannot doubt that this school is destined to give classical studies in our country a new and more vigorous life.” (Seventh Annual Report, Lord, 1947: 27)

As with his time at Leipzig, D’Ooge’s encounter with Modern Greece and the monuments of Ancient Greece strongly impacted the instruction of Greek studies at Michigan. After D’Ooge’s return to Michigan, he instituted a course on the Greek travel writer Pausanias who toured Athens and the rest of Greece in the second century c.e. Pausanias remains even today one of the primary witnesses to the remains of Classical Athens. D’Ooge also taught courses in Greek Epigraphy.

Even before D’Ooge landed in Greece, Classicists from Michigan were looking towards Classical lands. A student from Michigan named Walter Miller enrolled in the American School at Athens for the year 1885–1886. At the conclusion of the academic year, he set off on a walking tour he hoped would take him all the way to Istanbul, visiting archaeological sites along the way. He did not get beyond the further slope of one of the mountain ranges which encircle Athens. On only his second day out, he was robbed, beaten unconscious, and left for dead by two local villagers. The bloodied Miller managed to return to Athens to lodge a complaint with the local authorities. The authorities thereupon commissioned Miller as a Captain in the Greek army, and sent him out with a posse to apprehend the criminals. A few days later the brigands were in jail. To his credit, Miller altered his testimony at their trial so the two would not be sentenced to death. They were, however, sentenced to ten years in a prison on the island of Aegina (seeLord, 1947: 278–94).

Francis Willey Kelsey was hired to teach in the Department of Latin in 1889 by the ailing Professor Frieze (he died in December of that year). The next year he became head of the department. Although a Professor of Latin, Kelsey is equally well remembered for his pursuit of archaeology. While publishing on Lucretius, Ovid, and Caesar, Professor Kelsey also taught courses such as “Roman Archaeology: Topography and Architectural History of the City of Rome” and “Sculpture and Painting in the Roman Period.” He also offered classes on Roman numismatics and the remains of Pompeii.

The Early Twentieth Century

Near the turn of the twentieth century, many respectable programs in Classics in America had their own monograph series. Harvard University, for example, began publishing their Harvard Studies in Classical Philology in 1890. The University of Michigan, at Professor Kelsey’s urging, began their own series in 1904 with an inaugural volume by Henry Sanders entitled Roman Historical Sources and Institutions. The Michigan Humanistic Series continued publishing until 1950, with such varied contribution as Louis Karpinski’s Robert of Chester’s Latin Translation of the Algebra of al-Khowarizmi and Benjamin Merritt’s Athenian Financial Documents of the Fifth Century. Many of the University’s holdings in manuscripts and papyri were also published in this series. The contributions to the series dealt largely with the ancient world, but the series had quite a wide range. John Garrett Winter, a managing editor, thus summed up the series’ purpose: “The Humanistic Series is devoted to scholarly publication of materials dealing with all the various phases of the culture and civilization of the Mediterranean lands and the Near East in antiquity. The field therefore includes archaeology, history, literature, papyrology, and palaeography” (Winter, 1942). A list of the volumes produced in this series can be found below.

One of Professor D’Ooge’s most able students, John Garrett Winter took his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1906 and was immediately hired as an instructor in Greek and Latin. He was promoted to full professor of Greek and Latin in 1919. Professor Winter was a key figure in the acquisition and arrangement of Newberry Hall (now the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology) as a Museum of Archaeology. During his long service to the university, he was a director of the Museum of Classical Archaeology and of the Division of Fine Arts.

Along with Professor Kelsey, Professor Winter spent much time working with the University’s papyri collection. Acquisition of papyri in the early days of collecting was accomplished through legal and illegal channels. Sometimes questionable dealings produced memorable stories. Enoch Peterson, the Director of Michigan’s Archaeological Expedition in Egypt, wrote to John Garrett Winter that an Egyptian pasha had let it be known that he had a manuscript for sale,

“So I went one morning…to the home of this person but we found him out. His wife was in and agreed to show us some of the manuscripts. She, of course, had the most absurd ideas about everything. She showed me a long roll which must be a Hebrew Bible, not ancient at all, though she thought it must be at least four thousand years old.” (Peterson, 1933).

Needless to say, Peterson did not purchase the manuscript for the University.

Professor Kelsey continued to straddle the field of Latin literature and archaeology. From 1919 on, he directed the excavation of Pisidian Antioch, dug at Carthage, and helped to start the university’s excavations at Karanis in Egypt. The digs at Pisidian Antioch and Karanis uncovered such a wealth of material, papyrological and otherwise, that both continue to serve as important areas of research for scholars at the University of Michigan and are frequently featured in museum expositions.

Herbert Fletcher De Cou, a graduate of the University of Michigan, held various academic posts in the Departments of Greek and Latin throughout the 1890s and the 1900s. Although never permanently hired by the University of Michigan, he has a somewhat singular status among its many teachers of classics: he was murdered. In 1910, the American Institute of Archaeology received permission to excavate the North African city of Cyrene, which had been one of the most important Greek colonies. In March 1911, Assistant Director De Cou was murdered by three locals while on his way to the archaeological site. (Russell, 1993).

After teaching for a number of years at Olivet College in Detroit, Albert Robinson Crittenden (Michigan A.B. 1894) was hired by the Department of Latin in 1908. He continued in this position until his death in 1933, at which time he held the rank of full professor. Like other instructors at the time, Crittenden was interested in Latin pedagogy and was involved in the development of teaching certification in Latin at the University. It had long been taken for granted that the bulk of students’ instruction in Latin and Greek would have been accomplished in the high schools. Instruction in ancient languages had, however, fallen off to a precipitous point. In 1901, the university changed graduation requirements so that Latin and Greek were no longer required to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in LSA. Writing in 1922, Crittenden acknowledged that,

“It should be frankly recognized that we are working under conditions widely different from those prevailing in college life a generation ago. For one thing, the majority of our students no longer come to us with four years of Latin…” (1922: 1)

Crittenden had collected statistics showing that in 1910, 38% of the entering freshmen had taken four years of Latin in high school, whereas by 1919 this number had fallen to 20%; inversely, in 1910 20% of entering freshmen had studied Latin for two years, but by 1919, this number had swollen to 53%. This showed that more and more students were coming to Latin late. Crittenden proposed to address the changes in the student body by restructuring Latin instruction to take account of the lower level of students’ preparation. And for those who had not had the opportunity or motivation to study Latin in high school (in 1919 a surprising 23% of the entering freshmen), Crittenden proposed offering college credit for the first two years of Latin.

The deaths of Professor Kelsey in 1927 and Professor Crittenden in 1933 left the Department of Latin in a rather severe condition. The Department of Greek had suffered its greatest losses near 1910 with the deaths of Professors D’Ooge and Pattengill. Both the Departments of Greek and Latin saw a steady turnover of instructors starting in the 1920s, and continuing through the 1940s. A full list of instructors can be found below.

The history of the Departments of Greek and Latin at the University of Michigan during their first hundred years is remarkable. From humble beginnings, both departments were offering world-class instruction within a few short decades because of the qualities and dedication of their instructors. From the 1870s onward, one could study under internationally connected and respected scholars, and students soon took advantage of their own international study. Two factors, the gradual erosion of classics as a core curriculum and the expansion of the departments from the 1880s onward, contributed to the development of specialty courses and, later, professors who contributed to the richness of the classical education at the university. Although artificially and needlessly separated, the departments contributed to one another and to the general academic environment at the university. In 1946, the departments were merged into what is now the Department of Classical Studies, but that is a different story.

Bibliography of (Some) Michigan Classicists

James Robinson Boise. 1815–1895.

Albert R. Crittenden. 1867–1933.

Martin Luther D’Ooge. 1839–1915.

Henry Simmons Frieze. 1817–1889.

Clark Hopkins. 1895–1976.

Elisha Jones. 1832–1888.

Francis Willey Kelsey. 1858–1927.

John Garrett Winter. 1881–19??.

Other Early Teachers of Classics at Michigan

Listed below are the names of those who taught either in either the Departments of Greek or Latin (or in both) at the University of Michigan and who do not appear in the narrative above. After their names are given the dates when they taught at the University and the highest rank each achieved. (N.b. dates and titles below are as found in The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey, vol. 2.).

The Humanistic Series

(N.B. Some volumes contained more than one work.)



Chad Matthew Schroeder, 2005

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