Melvin Holli

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Melvin G. Holli was a professor, award-winning author and Director of the Urban Historical Collection at the University of Chicago.

Holli was born February 22, 1933 in Ishpeming, Michigan, where he attended the public schools. After graduating high school, he enrolled at Suomi College (now Finlandia University) before transferring to Northern in 1954. He received his B. A. degree February, 1957.

After leaving NMU, he taught at Rock River Township High School while simultaneously working towards his masters degree from the University of Michigan, which he received in 1958. After teaching high school for two more years, he returned to the University of Michigan to pursue a doctorate in American History while working as a Teaching Assistant. He was also employed part time as a research associate and then curator of manuscripts at the Bentley Library, and completed his doctorate in 1966.

Holli was the first NMU graduate to be awarded the National Woodrow Wilson fellowship for graduate study, which he was awarded in 1957.

Holli began teaching at the University of Chicago as an Assistant Professor of History in 1965. From there, he worked his way to Associate Professor in 1969, and Professor in 1975. Apart from teaching, he created an urban history collection focused on the work of politicians and activists in the Chicago area. It’s now housed in the university’s archives.

In 1991, Holli was made the chair of the History Department at UIC, and served until 1994. He was a Fulbright research professor in 1989.

Holli wrote and edited 18 books on American history and politics, the first entitled Reform in Detroit—published in 1969 by Oxford University press in its Urban Life in America series. It received critical acclaim, and was reprinted in 1981. Thereafter followed a second book entitled Detroit, published in 1975. In 1977, in collaboration with Peter d’A Jones came The Ethnic Frontier; Essays in the History of Group Survival. His 1981 novel Ethnic Chicago was reprinted in 1984, and earned and the Best Book prize from the Illinois Political Science Association for 1980-81 and the Best Book Award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1982. (A full list of Holli’s publications can be seen below).

Apart from academics, Holli kept close ties with his Finnish and Upper Peninsula Heritage. He was a patron of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in Ishpeming and owned a cabin in the U.P., where he enjoyed hunting and fishing. He also skied for the majority of his life, stopping a few years short of his 70th birthday.

He passed away January 7, 2016 at the age of 82.



Reform in Detroit: Hazen S. Pingree and Urban Politics, 1969; (intro.) My Story, 1971; (ed.) Detroit: Fur Trading Post to Industrial Metropolis, 1701-1976, 1976; (ed. with P. Jones) The Ethnic Frontiers: Essays in the History of Group Survival in Chicago and the Midwest, 1977; (ed. with P. Jones) Ethnic Chicago, 1981, rev. ed., 1984; (ed.) Biographical Dictionary of American Mayors 1820-1980, 1981; (ed. with P.M. Green) The Making of the Mayor, Chicago 1983, 1984; (with P.M. Green) The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition, 1987, 3rd ed., 2005; (with P.M. Green) Bashing Chicago Traditions: Harold Washington's Last Campaign, 1989; (with P.M. Green) Restoration 1989: Chicago Elects a New Daley, 1991; (ed. with P. d'A. Jones) Ethnic Chicago: A Multi-Cultural Portrait, 1994; The American Mayor: The Best and Worst Big City Leaders, 1999; (with P.M. Green) A View from Chicago's City Hall: Mid-Century to Millennium, 1999; (with R. Beuttler and R. Remini) The University of Illinois at Chicago: A Pictorial History, 2000; The Wizard of Washington: Emil Hurja, Franklin Roosevelt and the Birth of Public Opinion Polling, 2002; World War II Chicago, 2003; (with P.M. Green) View From Chicago's City Hall: Mid-century to Millennium, 2008.  "Holli, Melvin George." The Writers Directory. Ed. Katherine H. Nemeh. 31st ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: St. James Press, 2013. 1450. Web. 27 May 2016.
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