Prominent Canadian historian Hilda Neatby, then nearing retirement as Head of the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan, was entrusted with the task. She died in 1975 before she could complete the history but the chapters she had finished, which covered the first 76 years of Queen's history, were published in 1978 by Queen's-McGill Press. They were edited and completed by two members of Queen's Department of History: former department head Roger Graham and Frederick Gibson, who later wrote Queen's University, Volume II.
In Volume I, Neatby traces the development of the University from its inauspicious beginnings as a struggling Presbyterian "Bible college" to the period when it had become a permanent national institution. The story is one of early setbacks, resulting from financial crises (see Funding), divisions within the Presbyterian Church, and internal conflict, followed by periods of recovery in which Queen's College (as it was then known) demonstrated a remarkable will to survive.
It was not until the Principalship of George Monro Grant (1877-1902) that the college achieved the position it has held since as one of Canada's major universities. The figure of Grant inevitably dominates the volume but full recognition is given to other builders and preservers of Queen's, notably William Snodgrass, the Principal who weathered the storms of the 1860s and 1870s, and Daniel Miner Gordon, who presided over the secularization of the university in the early years of this century.
Neatby examines in detail the role of the Board of Trustees, the Senate, and the Alma Mater Society in Queen's development and explores the complex relationships with the Presbyterian Church, other universities, and the provincial government.
She shows how the distinctive character of Queen's was shaped by its Scottish heritage, evident in an emphasis on flexible curriculum, close faculty-student relations, and student self-government, as well as in independence in the face of repeated pressure for the concentration of higher education in Toronto.
Other books by Neatby include several volumes on the history of Quebec and an acclaimed critique of education in Canada, So Little for the Mind.
This second volume in the official history of Queen's was published by Queen's-McGill Press in 1983. In it, the late Frederick Gibson of Queen's Department of History places the development of the university in the context of its relationship with a growing Canadian nation.
He describes Queen's physical growth, the evolution of student life, the long, hard struggle for adequate resources for research, the gradual development of graduate work, and the building of library resources. He outlines the crises of the Second World War, the impact of the Cold War on Queen's, and the emergence of the great boom years of the 1950s and 1960s.
Gibson edited the first volume in Queen's official history, Queen's University, Volume I, with Roger Graham after the death of author Hilda Neatby in 1975.
The next volume of Queen's official history, covering the period from 1961-2004, is scheduled for publication in 2016 to coincide with the university's 175th anniversary.