Article ID: CBB001320499

Pathways and Purposes of the “French Tradition” of Engineering in Antebellum America: The Case of the Virginia Military Institute (2013)


Miller, Jonson (Author)

Engineering Studies
Volume: 5, no. 2
Issue: 2
Pages: 117-136

The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) adapted an elite French tradition of engineering training in order to (1) provide a practical career for lower class boys and (2) to legitimize the school itself within a field of higher education dominated by the liberal colleges. This French tradition, which first manifested in America through West Point, made its way to the VMI through multiple pathways. First, West Point graduates provided much of VMI's faculty. They employed West Point textbooks for many of their courses. Second, the VMI drew directly on French sources. Claudius Crozet, a French engineer who had immigrated to America, drafted the initial curriculum of the school. Also, many of the textbooks used at the VMI were either French books, translated from the French, or were American books based on French texts. The VMI used French pedagogical methods of quantitative ranking of student performance and public examination to demonstrate the competence of their students and their school to the public, thus gaining legitimacy. The officers also emphasized the usefulness of the training, in contrast to what they saw as an abstract education in the colleges, in order to establish their legitimacy.

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Authors & Contributors
Downey, Greg
Wray, Matt
Kaiser, David Isaac
Blok, Aad
Pursell, Carroll W.
Kennedy, V. Lynn
Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes: An International Quarterly
History of Science
International Journal for the History of Engineering and Technology
University of North Carolina Press
Duke University Press
MIT Press
Cambridge University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Social class
Science and war; science and the military
Medicine and race
Science education and teaching
Environmental history
Public health
Jefferson, Thomas
United States
Virginia (U.S.)
Southern states (U.S.)
Mississippi River (North America)
19th century
18th century
20th century
17th century
21st century
20th century, early
United States Military Academy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
Virginia, University of
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
United States. Army. Corps of Engineers
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

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