William Barton Rogers and the Idea of MIT
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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The commencement speech didn’t last long, but it remains one of the most memorable in academic history. If he spoke slowly, it might have lasted three to four minutes. William Barton Rogers, conceptual founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was not exactly known for his brevity, but then again few could have...
1. An Uncertain Future
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Almost as soon as he’d finished a course of studies at the College of William and Mary, young William Barton Rogers packed his belongings and left for Maryland. Accompanied by his brother, Henry Darwin Rogers, William headed for the small town of Windsor located near Baltimore. William had only a vague idea...
2. Tenure in the Tumult
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William Barton Rogers had a decision to make: Would he stay at the Maryland Institute or return to his alma mater as a faculty member? Most candidates at the time wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Moving from a little-known institute to a well-recognized college made the most sense. But Rogers’s experiences...
3. From Soils to Species
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Despite the challenges he faced in the South, Rogers established a career in geology and natural philosophy. He did so with a worldview organized around the useful arts. By adopting this emphasis, Rogers sidestepped the two most common models available to early-nineteenth-century scientists. On the one hand, Baconians...
4. Advancing and Diffusing
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As a geologist, more so than as a natural philosopher, Rogers participated in some of the earliest efforts to professionalize science in the United States. To those efforts he brought along the same useful arts ideals that colored his scientific research. From the survey of Virginia he learned the art of combining state interests...
5. Thwarted Reform
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Rogers's ideas about higher learning followed the pattern of his scientific and professional thought. A combination of theory and practice stood at the forefront of what he believed a college or university should promote. The useful arts, in other words, appeared once again as an organizing principle in his worldview...
6. Instituting a New Education
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Although Rogers encountered setbacks to his first two proposals, those in Philadelphia and Boston, the experiences became rehearsals for his third reform effort. Across the higher educational landscape of the 1850s could be seen institutions that satisfied parts of his own plan, but Rogers sought to bring these...
7. Convergence of Interests
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Rogers had only two days to celebrate the start of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On the morning of April 12, 1861, an old friend of his helped bring about an abrupt end to any optimism then occurring in the nation. That day Edmund Ruffin, Rogers’s old “marl” partner from his Virginia years, had...
8. Reception of the Idea
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Emma called it “nervous exhaustion.” MIT’s mathematics professor John D. Runkle dubbed Rogers’s illness “Institute on the brain.” Rogers himself said he was “liable to much nervous perturbation.” When the stroke hit, leaving him with partial but temporary paralysis, he broke off all engagements in Boston and decided...
9. This Fatal Year
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Although he'd retired from his duties, Rogers gave no indication that he planned to stay away from MIT for very long. Within weeks of handing the presidency to Francis A. Walker, he accepted an invitation to deliver the Institute’s May 1882 graduation speech. On that fateful day Rogers, in a very literal sense, gave...
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Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 1 halftone, 3 line drawings
Publication Year: 2009