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DocSouth Remembers UNC's Earliest Historians

The University of North Carolina began celebrating University Day in 1877 in accordance with an order from Zebulon B. Vance, Governor and chairman of the University's board of trustees. The annual celebration takes place on October 12, the anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the university's first building, Old East. In honor of University Day, Documenting the American South celebrates three of UNC’s earliest histories.

Kemp Plummer Battle, a former history professor, was president of UNC during the first university day celebration. He published a near-comprehensive, two-volume History of the University of North Carolina. His first volume, published in 1907, covers the university's beginnings through 1886, when President David Swain died and post-Civil War economic hardships closed the university's doors. Volume two begins in 1886 and covers the events leading up to the university's re-opening in 1875 through 1912, when the volume was published. Both volumes contain a wealth of illustrations and speak to both institutional concerns and student life on campus.

In The History of Education in North Carolina, Charles Lee Smith devotes a chapter to the university development. This chapter covers administrative and instructional issues and particularly highlights the role of the state government in the University's founding. Smith also provides illustration of the campus' early buildings and lists the faculty members.

Evert and George L. Duyckinck's more brief account of the university's history, published in Cyclopedia of American Literature, covers events and attendance through 1855. Though general in its overall scope, the article devotes specific attention to Dr. Joseph Caldwell, the university's first president.

All three histories provide valuable historical background for DocSouth’s newest collection, "True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students at the University of North Carolina" and are listed on the project bibliography. Readers interested in other topics in North Carolina should browse “The North Carolina Experience, Beginnings to 1940” Collection, which features a wide variety of print and manuscript materials that tell the story of the Tar Heel State as seen through representative histories, descriptive accounts, institutional reports, fiction, and other writing.

Jennifer L. Larson