‘History Comes Alive’ lecture series kicks off Sept. 18 with look at OU’s past

The History Comes Alive lecture series returns for another season, kicked off in September by historian, librarian and Oakland University archivist Dominique Daniel.

The lecture, “How Meadow Brook Farms Became Oakland University,” gave attendees a look into how and why Meadow Brook Farms was chosen and developed into the university it is today. It is based off of the research Daniel did for her book, “Oakland University,” and features many archival pictures and documents. The book is a departure from her usual topic of immigration, which she has published three books on.  

While many universities like to celebrate their histories, Daniel had more rational goals in mind.

“I’m going to try and take some critical distance to assess OU’s history, to what extent is it’s history original, to what extent it shares common features with other universities and colleges that were born in the late ’50s and ’60s, and I would like to show that OU is the product of national trends and local realities,” Daniel said.  

She expressed that the university’s founders had an idea that this would be a special university and this sense extended into how it was marketed and operated.

One slide showed headlines boasting about how the new school—at the time, Michigan State University Oakland (MSOU)—had “space age studies.”

“Although the founders conducted surveys of the local population’s needs, their views of higher education did not match the expectations [of] potential students and their parents,” Daniel said.

While the university did pull some of the brightest young minds from the surrounding areas, the classes were notoriously challenging. As such, 70 percent of the original class had failed at least one course in the first semester, and the graduating class held a bonfire of blue books in April of 1963. The problem of classes being too hard would be addressed, and in the fall of 1966, there were over 3,000 students enrolled—over five times the first enrolled class.

MSOU would become the independent OU in 1970, and the university would gradually evolve from the “no-frills” liberal arts college of  “Woody” Varner’s days into the full-fledged university of today. Some highlights from this time were an electric car made by engineering students, a stop by the Chinese ping-pong team on their American tour and the rise of official sports and greek societies on campus.  

“It was great,” Richard Williamson, history student, said about the lecture. “I really thought it was interesting how early on there was a focus on liberal arts and also this emphasis on what we today would call ‘world perspectives.’”

This season of the History Comes Alive lecture series consists of six lectures that bring moments from the past to today’s OU students. Lecture topics include the United States—Israel relationship (Oct. 16), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight against racism (Jan. 16) and the development of Detroit in the 1920s (Feb. 13).  

All lectures will be at the Oakland Center starting at 7 p.m. To reserve a spot, call 248-370-3511 or email [email protected]. Daniel’s book “Oakland University” can be purchased at Kresge Library.