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Special Collections Digitization Report

In a recent meeting with the Virginia Tech Special Collections Digitization Specialist, Ryan Speer, we began to work out a game plan for digitizing materials from Special Collections and using Omeka through the library account.  We first discussed my source base, which include much of the VT University Archives housed at VTSC.  Together we decided that I only digitize the items that I use in my research or items that correspond well.  To choose these I must have a draft of the research done before I, or a special collections associate, begins to digitize a lot of stuff that I don’t really need or has little value to my project.  Currently I have dozens of items from The Virginia Tech, the student newspapers before it became The Collegiate Times, but only a few items from the University Archives, most of those from the papers of Dr. McBryde.  Although I have marked about 100 newspaper articles that may be useful, I will probably not use all of them in this paper because of the time and length constraints and the repetition of similar ideas.  So it would be unwise and a waste of time to digitize all of these articles if I can achieve the same end from only a few.  One can imagine how this problem would increase as my primary sources increase over the next month and throughout the research portion of this project.

On the web-based side of this digitization project, Ryan has contacted Paul, his liaison to all things vt.edu based, to ask for a username and password for me to be able to use the library’s Omeka server, but even if I am not able to get this password, I will be able to the CHNM Omeka server when I download the program.  I would rather use the library server because I will have local contacts in case problems arise and because Ryan is proficient using the server and able to lend his time and expertise to my project.  The other problem with the Digital Library at VT is that students currently can only be access it when they are on campus.  Library staff like Ryan can access from home as well as on campus with a login ID and password.  He has contacted Gail McMillan to try to get me a login ID and password so that I have the option to work from home or elsewhere when using the Digital Library.

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Amendment to Thelin

John R. Thelin’s A History of American Higher Education is the most recent of Thelin’s many books about American higher education.  In this book, Thelin endeavors to “bring together the fresh research by historians” along with a “synthesis of articles, books, and monographs by dozens of established historians” in order to explain the “logic, methods, and complexities that historians encounter in reconstructing the past of colleges and universities (to) inspire as well as inform higher education leaders and decision makers.”(Thelin pgs. xix, xx, xvi)  Thelin intends to replace Frederick Rudolph’s The America College and University: A History with this new, comprehensive edition that also includes the history of the four decades between Rudolph’s work and this book.  Thelin plans to focus much of the work on, what he calls, understudied institutions, including women’s colleges, historically black campuses, community colleges, professional schools, and state sponsored colleges, especially those receiving federal aid via the Morrill Act of 1862.(Thelin, xx)  He structures his book thematically and these sections often overlap chronologically beginning with the American colonial period and running through the new millennium.  Throughout the first 5 chapters, Thelin hardly lives up to his promise of promoting the understudied schools, but this is due to the facts that they did not yet exist or were recipients of great philanthropy.  This is corrected in the later chapters.  All in all, Thelin’s work functions as a great introductory source to the history of American higher education because he is able to tie so many historian’s work together in this synthesis of his life’s work.

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Virginia Tech History Master’s Thesis Proposal

A Virginia Tech Master’s Thesis Proposal is comprised primarily of 3 parts:

Narrative: including the historical question, thesis or focus statement (answer), significance of research, literature review, and personal review of the above.

  • Historical Question—What are you writing about?  What significant questions are you asking and how does your topic address the question?
  • Thesis or Focus Statement—This is an answer to the question(s) asked above.  What are your sources and where is that evidence located?  What is your perspective?  What theoretical framework are you using?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of your sources?
  • Significance—why are your question and answer significant?  Set it up within the larger, ongoing, scholarly conversation.  How will you contribute to the conversation?  Are you asking new questions, or giving new answers to old questions?
  • Literature review—What are the historical or theoretical issues your thesis addresses?  What is the current state of the literature?  What has already been asked?  How did they answer it?  What sources did they use?  How will you use them?
  • Personal review—How would you critique your own proposal?  What problems do you see?  Problems with evidence? Questions? Etc.

Bibliography:  A list of each source used and planned to be used in the making of the project.  These should be categorized into source types, primary and secondary, and further sorted by discipline, sports history, gender history, etc.

Calendar of Events:  This will include the dates important to one’s research.  Perhaps the due date of each chapter, due date of each revision, estimated defense date, etc. would be included.  My calendar would include due dates of each section of the written paper as well as estimates of completion and full functionality of elements of the website.  This should be done in collaboration with an adviser in order for you both to know what to expect, and to keep the student and adviser accountable.

My preliminary calendar:

August 30:  Preliminary primary research complete

September 15:  Preliminary secondary research complete

September 25:  Proposal due to adviser

October 1:  Proposal Defense

November 1:  First portion due

December 15:  Second portion due

January 15:  Preliminary website functional, with text added, reviewed, and customized design.

February 15:  Archive fully functional and searchable metadata input

March 31:  Website fully operational and prepared to defend

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The Week Ahead: 07/19–07/24

This week I am planning to return to heavy primary document research.  I’m on my way to Special Collections at Virginia Tech today and tomorrow to blast through a couple of boxes of University Archive papers.  Here is my checklist for the week:


Friday:  Meeting with Ryan Speer about VTSC digitization, use of Omeka, and collaboration on this project.

Monday:  Thesis Proposal Schedule and breakdown of proposal elements due

Revision of Thelin blog post due, focusing on introduction and thesis

Tuesday:  Meeting with Dale before his research trip to DC

Mom arrives to visit

Thursday:  Analysis of Omeka due

All Weekdays:  Primary research at VT Special Collections

Next Week:  I’m off to Texas to visit the family and pick up my new car


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A History of American Higher Education by John R. Thelin

John R. Thelin wrote a history textbook about the evolution of the American system of higher education in which he attempts to hit the major issues that policy makers, administrators, students, and parents faced during their own time period.  Clearly, because of the nature of a textbook in which one tries to cover a huge swath of history in less than 400 pages, a lot of details are going to be left out, but all in all, Thelin does a tremendous job of touching on most major issues throughout the 19th century and into the Progressive Era.  While writing specifically for non-historians, administrators and policy makers, Thelin plans to fill a gap between all of the historical scholarship that focuses on single aspects of college life or administration problems, by trying to cover the entire history of the American higher education system.  Thelin does this by focusing on understudied institutions, like community colleges, women’s colleges, and historically black campuses along with the great universities of America.

In chapter 3, Thelin begins to focus on the new types of education opportunities when he introduces the Morrill Act of 1862, which introduced land-grant institutions to most states.  The Morrill Act of 1862 helped expand the state college into the beginnings of the ideal university model, a collection of federated units, or a collection of colleges within a single university.  This chapter also focuses on where most students come from.  Most students live very near to the institution that they attend.  This localism harkens back to the idea of Elliott Gorn, in which boxers or athletes of any kind usually hailed from a small neighborhood which they ultimately represented.  This was true in the late 19th century, but the advent of scholarships and public interest in intercollegiate athletics would change this, much like the growing popularity of boxing removed the fighter from his neighborhood.

Chapter 4 discusses what it takes to make a great university in the 19th century.  The resounding answer is money.  Many philanthropists with very deep pockets privately endowed universities who agreed to take their name like Rice University, Stanford University, or Tulane University.  The next best answer was great leadership, this includes teachers, coaches, and administrators.  Architecture was an important way to gain attention in the public eyes, so donors would often endow entire buildings or more in order to help their university gain better students and prestige.  Thelin focuses on academic buildings, dorms, administrative offices, but Ingrassia uses Thelin work to show that stadiums were an important part of campus life and architecture in 19th century American colleges.

In chapter 5, Thelin discusses the beginnings of the rising student population of institutions of higher learning throughout the country.  The percentage of 18-22 year olds who attended college rose from about 2% in 1880 to nearly 50% by 1960.  Thelin attributes this rise mainly to the ever-growing middle class and the idea that “self-made men wanted their sons to have a shared campus experience that would position them to associate with young men from established, educated families.”(155)  He also uses this part of the book to discuss campus life among students, in which extra-curricular activities play a large role, whether it is participating or spectating at athletic events, wearing the special garb of the college, singing in the glee club, or enjoying fraternity life.

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Campus Life Book Review Synthesis

Paula S. Fass—University of California-Berkeley (Maragret S. Byrne Professor Emerita and Professor of the Graduate School)  Her books include The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s, Oxford University Press, 1977; Outside In: Minorities and the Transformation of American Education, Oxford University Press, 1989; Kidnapped: A History of Child Abduction in the United States, Oxford University Press, 1997; Children of a New World, NYU Press, 2006 and Inheriting the Holocaust: A Second-Generation Memoir, Rutgers University Press, 2009. The editor-in-chief of the award winning and ground-breaking three volume Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society, Paula Fass was President of the Society for the History of Children and Youth from 2007 to 2009.

Burton J. Bledstein—Professor of History Emeritus at University of Illinois-Chicago

Professor Bledstein taught Cultural, Intellectual, and Social History of the U.S. at UIC until 2011.  Among major awards, he has received four National Endowment of the Humanities Fellowships.  A Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at U.C.L.A., and graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Professor Bledstein earned his Ph.D. in History at Princeton University. His first book was The Culture of Professionalism: The Middle Class and the Development of Higher Education in America (W.W. Norton, 1976). In 2001, he published “Storytellers to the Middle Class” in a collection, Bledstein and Johnston ed., The Middling Sorts: Explorations in the History of the American Middle Class (Routledge 2001). He was Project Director of a university supported website, “In the Vicinity of the Maxwell Street Market” and is currently finishing a book, “Visual Thinking in Urban America: Jane Addams Encounters Lewis Hine’s Hull-House Photography.”

PAUL H. MATTINGLY–Paul H. Mattingly holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin and taught American history at New York University for nearly forty years. At NYU he directed the Program in Public History, which seeks to advance historical knowledge via engagement with institutions and groups often left out of textbook history. His published work includes Suburban Landscapes: Culture and Politics in a New York Metropolitan Community (John Hopkins University Press, 2001).


Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz’s Campus Life:  Undergraduate Cultures from the Eighteenth Century to the Present has fantastic prose, according to the three reviewers, but it was her broad generalizations and shoddy research that led the reviewers to discredit much of her findings.  Horowitz’s three “ideal types” of college student cultures are torn apart by all three of the reviewers.  Dr. Fass says that because Campus Life “looks primarily at students at select (usually Ivy League) colleges, it misses the real extent and diversity of college settings and college life, especially in the twentieth century.”  Dr. Mattingly states that “the broader social and political forces that created numerous colleges and filled them with different populations over time does not really concern the author,” while Dr. Bledstein says that “the traditions of college life seemed to be too removed from the historical disturbances, disappointments, and discontinuities beyond campus life,” and “it is also disappointing that the author did not set out to explain more fully the difficulties in understanding events and change, indeed the density and ambiguities embedded in social types.”  All three of the reviewers felt that Horowitz would have better served herself, her readers, and future historians by digging deeper into the history, finding details to share instead of painting such a broad picture of the cultures of college students.

Their other complaints were similar as well.  They agree that Horowitz’s final conclusion is almost entirely unsupported by the nearly 300 pages of prose that precede it, in which she proves that there were three distinct student cultures throughout the history of the American university system, yet she concludes that the present issues stem from two different cultures that she neglects to mention until the very end of her work.  Even then she hardly explains the New Outsiders and Quiet Rebels.  Dr. Horowitz attempted a very difficult task when she started with an answer to her question before she researched the question.  Dr. Fass and Dr. Bledstein agree that Horowitz’s previous book was much better researched, with the same excellent prose and ease of comprehension, but they fault her for not allowing her evidence to guide her to a conclusion in this work.