UM Does Big ThingsBIG_THINGS.html

The University of Michigan was established in 1817 in the village of Detroit by an act of the Northwest Territorial government and financed through the sale of Indian lands granted by the United States Congress. Since it benefited from this territorial land grant, the new university was subject to the enlightenment themes of the Northwest Ordinance guaranteeing civil rights and religious freedom. But equally significant for our purposes was the Northwest Ordinance’s statement of the importance of education in the new territories: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

The University of Michigan traces its earliest heritage to two quite different models of higher education in 18th century Europe. Actually, the first incarnation of the University of Michigan proposed by William Woodward, Secretary and later Governor of the Michigan Territory was not a university but rather a centralized system of schools, libraries, and other cultural institutions borrowing its model from the Universite Imperiale de France founded by Napoleon a decade earlier. Named “the Catholepistemiad or university of Michigania” by Woodward, this was actually an extraordinary vision for the times. It proposed an intellectual breadth far beyond the classical curriculum of the colonial colleges that would be run by the professors rather than boards of churchman and denominations like other American colleges of the early 19th century. Woodward also proposed that it would be supported by taxation so that its primary schools were free and t its higher education would require only a modest tuition from students. It was only after the State of Michigan entered the Union in 1837 that a new plan was adopted to focus the university on higher education, establishing it as a “state” university after the Prussian system, with programs in literature, science and arts; medicine; and law–the first three academic departments of the new university.

The Making of the University of Michigan

Howard Peckham, p.6

The Catholespistimead


University of Michigania