Detroit: A Guide to the Resources in the Bentley Historical Library


In partial commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Detroit, the Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan has prepared this guide to its holdings of manuscript, visual, and published sources relating to the history of Detroit. The guide will have served its purpose if it informs interested researchers of the existence of unique Detroit materials at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When founded in 1935, the Michigan Historical Collections (since renamed the Bentley Historical Library) undertook to collect and preserve documentary materials important for the understanding of state history. Although collecting from all parts of the state, the city of Detroit by virtue of its economic and political importance became a focus of our collecting.

The range of material that has been collected is remarkable. From private citizens have come letters and diaries of their forebears, while clubs and societies have donated minutes of their meetings and files detailing their activities. Equally important are the scrapbooks and photograph albums handed down and now preserved that capture for all to see what everyday life was like in the growing and ever vital community that is Detroit. The result is a remarkable body of manuscripts and archives that has enabled and will continue to enable historians and other researchers to study and marvel at the richness of Detroit history and the accomplishments of its great personalities. As might be expected the strength of the library's Detroit holdings falls within the period of the Civil War to the end of the Twentieth Century, and within that from the beginning of the Depression through the 1980s.

The intent of this guide is to list the library's holdings of archival and manuscript collections including photographic and other visual materials. The entries have been compiled from the library's catalog (part of the University's MIRLYN catalog) using Detroit as a search term. In some cases, the bulk of the materials described relate to Detroit; in other instances, there might be only an item or two that are specific to Detroit, perhaps a letter of a traveler to Detroit or part of a diary describing someone's classes at a Detroit high school. The goal has been to emphasize Detroit materials.

The guide has been arranged into broad topical subdivisions: ethnic communities, religious life, African American life and contributions, etc. Within each subdivision, entries are arranged alphabetically. Included with each entry are dates of collection, size, brief biographical or institutional information, and a summary description of the contents. Also indicated is such information as the existence of a more extensive finding aid to the collection, or the language of the materials (if not English). Collections that fall within more than one of the topical subdivisions have been listed in each section.

The guide has emphasized manuscript and visual materials. The library also has extensive holdings of published books, periodicals, newspapers, and maps. Rather than list these separately, the library's published works curator has provided a summarization of our holdings in these areas. This guide is not intended to replace the catalog to Bentley Library holdings available on the web. Rather through catalog descriptions and representative images interspersed throughout these pages, we offer our commendation to the city of Detroit on this important anniversary occasion. Our work over the last sixty-five years has been to join with others in preserving and making available for research Detroit historical materials.