Introduction and General History
The curriculum at the University of Northern Iowa has been organized into at least rudimentary instructional departments since the foundation of the institution, as the Iowa State Normal School, in 1876. During the early years of the school, these rudimentary departments consisted of a small number of clusters of similar courses, under broad headings such as English Literature, Science, Art, Mathematics, and History. Faculty sometimes taught classes in several departments, and there were no department heads. With a very small faculty, a rigid curriculum, and a limited number of courses, this method of curricular organization worked satisfactorily.
In the early and middle 1890s, traditional portions of the curriculum began to show differentiation and new currucular elements appeared. With the growing faculty, it became both possible and desireable to establish more departments of study such as Latin, Military Science and Tactics, Drawing, Elocution and Physical Culture, and Music. This trend toward differentiation continued after the turn of the nineteenth century. From six departments in 1891, the college grew to twenty-one departments in 1909. But until 1909, departments were still primarily clusters of courses. While Normal School faculty members tended to concentrate their teaching within a single department, they also functioned as a faculty of the whole institution, without department heads, and without significant department administrative structure. In addition, some of these departments were very small, with several consisting of just one professor and, perhaps, one assisting instructor.
In 1909, at the request of both the faculty and the Board of Trustees, President Seerley appointed department heads and, consequently, departments took on the appearance with which we are familiar today.
Over the years there have been waves of differentiation and consolidation among and between departments in response to a variety of factors, including personnel changes, curricular development, national trends, and financial pressure. But in general, the trend from the 1920s through the early 1960s was consolidation into very large departments such as Science, Social Science, and Education. When the institution gained university status in 1967, the trend moved in the other direction and many new departments appeared. Some of the old, large departments became the bureaucratic models for the colleges in the new collegiate organization  of the university. And each of the new colleges spawned a number of departments, some with new names and some continuing or re-using old department names.
Since that time, the number of departments has remained fairly stable. Some department names, notably in the sciences, have changed little, if at all. Others, notably in education, have seen significant changes. And the College of Business Administration, with its own set of departments, emerged as the School of Business from the former College of Business and Behavioral Sciences.
Notes on Data Sources and Accuracy
Data for this history of UNI instructional department names come from institutional catalogues and budgets. We believe that these data are reasonably accurate, but, especially through about 1930, some dates for the establishment or consolidation of departments may be inaccurate by as much as a year because of ambiguities in many catalogue issues. Some catalogues use the disconcerting practice, for example, of providing a faculty list for one year and a description of department organization for the next year. Some catalogue tables combine information from several years without noting the historical imprecison of such a practice. This imprecision has the effect of listing the faculty for a particular year within the administrative framework for another year. It creates an historical situation that never really existed. Even within a single catalogue, a department may be listed under two different names.
The tables and text at the links below attempt to note each distinct department name, down to minor variations in punctuation and spelling. For example, the tables distinguish Modern Language from Modern Languages, Latin from Latin Language, and Mathematical from Mathematics. We believe that most distinctions, especially if they persisted for several years, were intentional and meaningful. However, in some cases certain distinctions could possibly be due to catalogue errors or unintentional inconsistencies. For example, the Department of English existed from 1896 through 1909, changed to English Language and Literature for the 1909-1910 year, and then reverted to English from 1910 through 1946. That one year of difference, in a fifty year run, may not be consequential.
Reading the Tables and Descriptions
In any case, the following tables and descriptions should give a reasonably clear picture of the dates of existence of UNI instructional departments. The opening date of a date range signifies the beginning of the fiscal year in which a department existed. The closing date of a date range signifies the end of a fiscal year in which a department existed. For example, the range 1909-1911 means that a department name existed from the fiscal year that started on July 1, 1909, and continued through the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 1911.
Changes in instructional department names, found below under "Devlopment and Relationships of Department Names", should be regarded only as descriptive overviews. Many of the name changes occurred for complex reasons that are beyond the scope of these brief essays.