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#155 Four Men Defined Norwich History for Generations

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, This Week in History

William Ellis, Grenville Dodge, and Robert Guinn shaped our understanding of Norwich’s legacy with their work on the university’s published histories. To mark 200 years of that legacy, Alex Kershaw will join their ranks.

“The annals of such an institution, may, therefore, very properly be called heroic, and will be found faithfully recorded in the historical section of the book.”

William Ellis

So a notice in the student newspaper, the Reveille, described the initial 1898 edition of William Arba Ellis’ master work, Norwich University: Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor. This first volume took him three years to research and a year to write. He would spend well over a decade meticulously gathering information for the three-volume set.

Ellis was a member of the NU Class of 1897. Early in his career as a cadet, he took an interest in the university’s history. In 1894, while editor of the Reveille, he began gathering stories and sources for the monumental work that would occupy nearly 20 years of his life. Most of the initial research and writing was done while he was still a student. By November 1897, only five months after he graduated with a degree in engineering, the proofs had already been sent to a printer in New Hampshire.

After the 1898 edition of the new university history was released (and much energy was put into recovering its printing costs), Ellis set his meticulous mind to the work of librarian at his alma mater. He was rewarded for the impressive work he had already completed as university historian with an honorary master’s degree in 1902.

Greenville Dodge

But it turned out that his work had only just begun. In 1908, Grenville Dodge, one of the university’s most venerable and influential alumni, expressed interest in expanding the work to include biographical sketches of as many alumni as possible. Ellis thus resumed his duties as historian.

He spent years tracking down alumni and their families around the world and asking them to submit their own biographies and photographs. In total, over 600 alumni, including both graduates and non-graduates, were profiled in the final product’s 2,000 pages. Grenville Dodge was credited as the publisher of what would often be referred to as the Dodge-Ellis history. The effort took a toll on Ellis’ health, and he died of pneumonia before the age of 50 in 1918.

Robert Guinn

Nearly 50 years after the completion of Norwich University: Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor, it was announced that longtime Norwich professor and dean Robert Darius Guinn would enter retirement in order to focus on the project of writing an update to Ellis’ work. He began his career at Norwich in 1925 as a professor of modern languages and had been eyewitness to many of the events he would write about.

The result was a slimmer volume titled simply The History of Norwich University, 1912-1965. It chronicled in broad strokes the events at the university since Ellis’ time, including the impact of two world wars and eight university presidents. Guinn’s work was considered to be Volume IV of the university’s history, a continuation of Ellis’ ambitious project begun in 1894.

Alex Kershaw

In has been more than fifty years since the previous chapters of Norwich’s history were written. As part of the bicentennial commemoration, the university commissioned Alex Kershaw, renowned military historian and New York Times bestselling author to bring 200 years of history to life. He spent 18-months researching and writing an authoritative account of Norwich’s legacy from its founding to the present, highlighting the accomplishments and many contributions of the institution and its alumni in the development of the nation. Norwich University Archives and Special Collections, and the Sullivan Museum and History Center provided support and resources throughout the project. The book, titled Citizens & Soldiers: The First Two Hundred Year of Norwich University, will be released at Homecoming 2018.

For more information or to reserve a copy, visit the Alumni’s History Book here.