Friday, October 30, 2009

The Brandeis Seal

The University Archives receives many questions about the Brandeis University seal, which has undergone several revisions over the course of the school's sixty-plus year history.

In 1948, the Brandeis University Bulletin (course catalog) showed a simple circular seal with the words "Brandeis University" surrounding two Tablets of the Law; the tablets were inscribed with the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The university's first president, Abram Sachar, transformed the seal into a more secular symbol designed by Kenneth Conant, a professor of medieval history at Harvard University and an expert on heraldry. Conant created a shield containing an image of three mounds of ice with three licks of fire rising from them—representing a literal translation from the Yiddish: Brand (Fire) and Eis (Ice). The number three was a reference to the city of Boston, which was built on a trimount, and could be seen from the Brandeis campus. President Sachar decided to surround the shield with a quote from Psalm 51: "Truth Even Unto Its Innermost Parts."

The first seal was delineated by a simple line; in 1950 an ornate Baroque framing appeared and the Hebrew word "EMET" (Truth) was newly inscribed on the trimount. This design continued until c.1983, when a bold, blue and white seal was introduced. A committee was then formed to evaluate the new unofficial seal; though committee members recommended that the heraldic shield be replaced by a book, the shield remains to this day.

description by Maggie A. McNeely, Assistant Archivist

1 comment:

  1. In 1983 University president Evelyn Handler changed the seal from a large shield to just a single flame (by itself). It appeared she was doing this as part of a larger effort to remove many of the more traditional and Jewish aspects of Brandeis' identity. The seal with "emet" was brought back within a year, but the traditional shield and hebrew text was reduced in size and placed inside a large circular frame. It would be nice to see the traditional shield return as the Brandeis seal.