The University Record, March 19, 2001

Clements Library map curator's book pictures early Detroit

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

After 300 years at the heart of the Great Lakes, Detroit looks back at its history and forward to its future as a strategic city in a book by Brian Leigh Dunnigan, curator of maps at the Clements Library. Frontier Metropolis: Picturing Early Detroit 1701–1838 explains the importance of Detroit and its history.

In spring 1749, King Louis XV’s colonial minister touted the merits of the burgeoning “Fort Du Detroit” by writing, “At all times, Detroit has been regarded as an important post.” Detroit grew to become the port of Michigan, a place where, it was reported in 1830, “the finest steamers in the waters come and go every day, connecting the east, and begin already to search out the distant west and north.”

With early maps and drawings, Dunnigan describes both the topography and biography of the city in the 248-page volume.

This is the first overview of Detroit’s formative years, based in large part on new sources to be issued in more than 50 years. “It is a major contribution in numerous historical fields—social and ethnic history, Native American studies, trade and commerce, art and architecture, and of course, the history of cartography—providing all sorts of intriguing new leads, which should serve many audiences,” says John C. Dann, director of the Clements Library. “It tells and portrays a coherent story of one of this country’s most fascinating and least-known colonial cities.”

Although Frontier Metropolis has the appearance of a “coffee table book,” it is a notable contribution to academic scholarship. The project originated in the 1930s, when Clements Library Director Randolph G. Adams began assembling an iconography of Detroit. Dunnigan, a noted authority on 18th-century military history and architecture, took up where Adams left off, finding more than 100 previously unknown maps and views in libraries, archives and private collections throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. More than half of the maps and views in the publication had never been reproduced. The few that had been published previously had never been seen in color.

Copies of Frontier Metropolis are available from Wayne State University Press, 4809 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48201-1309 or by calling (800) 978-7323.