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Donald Nivison Ferguson papers

Identifier: ua-00483

Scope and Content

This collection documents the life and career of Donald Nivison Ferguson from 1922, when he received his Masters degree at the University of Minnesota to his death in 1985. The collection contains articles, speeches, clippings, correspondence, manuscripts, programs, photographs, awards, publications and scrapbooks. The collection also contains a family history including school assignments and drawings of John Ferguson and information on Donald Ferguson Hall on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota.

A blue print of Ferguson Hall was removed and added to the blueprint collection.


  • 1922-1985


Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Sketch of Donald N. Ferguson (1882-1985)

Donald Nivison Ferguson was born June 30, 1882 at Waupan, Wisconsin. While always interested in music, it was not until his junior year at the University of Wisconsin that he began to pursue music in earnest. In 1905, a year after graduating from Wisconsin, he went to London to study piano under pianist Michael Hambourg and to take composition from composer J. Holbrooke. He settled in Minneapolis in 1909 where he taught piano privately, and directed the orchestra at West High School. In 1914, he joined the staff of the University of Minnesota's Department of Music, and founded the University Symphony Orchestra. Ferguson received his M.A. degree from the University of Minnesota in 1922, writing his thesis on troubadour music. On a leave of absence from 1929-30, Ferguson studied at the University of Vienna. He gained full professorship in 1927. Posthumously, in 1985, Macalester awarded him an honorary doctor of fine arts degree.

Ferguson was interested in all fields of the humanities -- philosophy, aesthetics, literature, languages, art, and dance. He was a respected member of the American Society of Aesthetics, served as President of the Minnesota Music Teachers' Association and was Vice-President of the National College Music Association. Well known as a music scholar, Ferguson was the author of several books, including: A History of Musical Thought (1935, 1948), A Short History of Music (1940), Masterworks of the Orchestral Repertoire (1954), Music and a Metaphor (1960), and the Why of Music (1969). A History of Musical Thought became a standard text in colleges for many years, and, at the time of his death was still in print. He was a founder and director of the Bach Society, and wrote program notes for the Minneapolis Symphony.

Mandatory retirement from the University of Minnesota in 1950 did not end Ferguson's academic career. He accepted a position as Head of the Department of Music at Macalester College, St. Paul that he held for nine years.

The University of Minnesota honored Ferguson by naming the new music building located on the West Bank the Donald N. Ferguson Hall. Although present at the groundbreaking in 1982, he died at the age of 102 in 1985, before the building was dedicated.


2.45 Cubic Feet (6 boxes (5 hollinger, 1 oversize))


This collection contains papers of, and documents connected to, Donald Nivison Ferguson, professor of music at the University of Minnesota.


The collection is arranged alphabetically by subject.

Source of acquisition

Donated to University Archives in 1977, 1991, and 1992 by the University of Minnesota Music Library.

Related Material

University of Minnesota Music Department papers
Donald Nivison Ferguson papers, 1922-1985
Ellen Miller; updated by Kelly J. Shorrel
Updated April 2004
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area