In 1837, Queen Victoria ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom, Martin Van Buren became president of the the United States, the City of Chicago was incorporated, Michigan was admitted as the 26th U.S. state, and the University of Michigan relocated from Detroit to Ann Arbor.
Very soon afterwards, in February of 1838, Dr. Zina Pitcher made a motion that the Board of Regents “subscribe for one copy of Audubon’s Ornithology for the use of the University.” Published in double Elephant Folio format between 1827-1838, and depicting more than 400 avian species in hand-colored engravings with scientific detail and artistic mastery, The Birds of America was an important purchase, not only materially as a source of study, but symbolically, as a statement of ambition for the nascent University. As the first “official” acquisition towards the establishment of a University Library, it gave the message that the University of Michigan - despite its location in a small town in the nation’s newest state, with just two faculty members and seven students - was already situating itself as an academic leader.
In the nearly two centuries since The Birds of America came to U-M, the University has grown to include 19 schools and colleges and has an enrollment of more than 40,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from all 50 states and over 100 countries. It has become a leader in higher education and a center of groundbreaking social, cultural, and scientific research. And both students and community members continue to have the opportunity to enjoy Audubon’s unparalleled publication, placed on permanent display in the Audubon Room on the first floor of Hatcher Graduate Library.
As the University community looks forward to celebrating the bicentennial of its founding in 2017, thoughts naturally turn to the possibilities of Michigan’s third century. Today’s bustling campus and networked world were probably inconceivable to the University’s first hand-full of students, as they studied latin while watching cows graze on the college green. Likewise, it is impossible to predict what the University of Michigan will look like, or the form its accomplishments will take in 2117, but it is certain that U-M’s mission of education and research will remain vital to both the local and global community.
In celebration of all that has come before, and with confidence of further greatness to come, the Special Collections Library and the William L. Clements Library have jointly purchased Audubon’s second great work The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, published in imperial folio between 1845 and 1848. These three volumes depict more than 150 mammals produced from Audubon’s original drawings through exquisitely hand-colored lithography, and form a fitting opening to the Library’s third century of collecting in the service of research and teaching. Many donors have helped make this acquisition possible. Thank you to the Breslauer Foundation, A. Alfred Taubman, Jennifer Poteat, William P. Heidrich and all of our Giving Blueday donors.
With thanks to the Digital Library Production Service (DLPS), we are happy to announce the launch of a new digital collection: “John James Audubon’s Birds of America and Viviparous Quadrupeds,” featuring the complete contents of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, and a selection of images from The Birds of America. Through the online collection, viewers may search, browse, and download the plates for enjoyment and study.
Baker, Cathleen. Audubon's Birds of America: A Technical Examination and Condition Survey of the Four Volume Folio Set Belonging to Syracuse University. Ann Arbor, MI: The Legacy Press, 2007.
M Alumni Association. University of Michigan History. Accessed April 24, 2015.
Michigan Almanac, 5th Edition. University of Michigan, 2015. Accessed April 24, 2015.