STS.050 The History of MIT

Spring 2014: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 - 12:30 pm in 4-257
Prereq: None
3-0-9 units

Instructor: Dr. Deborah Douglas, Director of Collections, MIT Museum

"MIT is...(fill in the blank)...."

How many times have you attempted to describe MIT? How do you fill in the blank? What do you wish you knew about the Institute? The short description for this course, suggests a simple (albeit fascinating!) effort to survey MIT's history from its founding to the present day. As you have probably discovered, MIT is not a simple place. To study MIT is to study the modern world. This course, then, is about discovery, exploration, adventure, about learning, creative thinking, and the synthesis of big ideas. It is about the importance of the research university: what it has been in the past and what it will be in the future.

When writing down his vision for MIT, charismatic founder and education pioneer William Barton Rogers wrote this in his 1860 “Objects and Plan,”

“The practical nature of the discoveries in chemistry, mechanics, geology, and other branches of scientific inquiry, has multiplied almost infinitely the lines of connection between them and the processes of the Workshop, the Manufactory, and the Farm, and of the Constructive and Locomotive Arts; and these countless connecting threads, woven into one indissoluble texture, form that ever-enlarging web which is the blended product of the world's scientific and industrial activity.” (emphasis added)

Through readings, videos, discussions, lectures, special guest talks and hands-on opportunities, you will explore MIT like few others have. You will take up Rogers' challenge to weave together countless connecting threads.

This class has been steadily evolving since first taught in 2010, and this year is no exception. We will now meet twice a week. One session will belong to the class, a time for discussion, creative learning exercises, and some short lectures. The second session will involve guest speakers and on-campus “field trips.” You will be asked to write a short reflection paper most weeks as well as two longer essays about some aspect of MIT history that interests you. The most important prerequisite is curiosity, a desire to think deeply about MIT, and a willingness to communicate your thoughts and ideas with your classmates. The ultimate aim is to fascinate you as much as to help you improve your skills synthesizing information from diverse sources about science, technology, and culture.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Building E51-163