A Little Note on the History of VT


Upper Quad late 1800’s Lane Hall is the building on the left in the foreground.

Greetings all!

If you don’t know me (yet), you’ll soon find out that I have something to say about almost everything. I try not to be a know-it-all, and I try to share what I know for the benefit of others. If it becomes annoying, please don’t hesitate to mention it to me. I have a fairly high tolerance for criticism, and I know not everyone is going to find my wisdom relevant 100% of the time. I hope what I write is helpful to most, provocative at times, and a bit entertaining as well.

With that said, I have a few things to say about our romp through VT’s history. I attended Tech as an undergrad in the 1980’s. It was a wonderful haven for ‘coming of age’ in all the ways that a place/space and its people can be wonderful. It was also fraught with tensions and conflicts: both at the macro and micro levels, for me. I quickly became acutely aware of just how little I knew when I arrived at Tech, but I was equally astounded at how much I had learned by the time I graduated. I learned how to write consistently and with the force of logical arguments and fact. I met people from all over the country and learned about their upbringing, hopes, and shortcomings in all different settings. I made tons of friends and connections, and lost some as well through differences of opinions, graduation/transfer, and death.  I became [moderately] politically active, and was occasionally sorely disappointed at how little attention was paid to student concerns [Lavery was president at the time].  I worked and volunteered in the community and observed inequity in ways I had no idea existed.  Well before it was a ‘thing’ I considered Tech my home – I grew up and became a semi-functional adult here.

In my experiences, universities have a way of evolving, but remaining true to their roots and enmeshed in the culture that they are steeped in.  Dr. DePaw eluded to that in her comments last night: Virginia Tech will always be connected to its military history and traditions (which isn’t a bad thing), it will always be located in a small, rural town on a plateau in the Blue Ridge mountains, and it will likely carry with it the sentiments and traditions that have shaped it for over 150 years.  But it has changed tremendously in the past 30 years, and I suspect will continue to do so in the future.

I feel like there is so much more to know about the culture of Tech and Blacksburg than just what we read about the presidents. I know we had limited time to dive into it in class, so I’m hoping you might enjoy the opportunity to learn more on your own. I think it is essential to know both about the history and plans for the future to be part of the community and to make an appreciable impact.  Learning about the history of the place via the lens of adminstrators – particularly the presidents – does not begin to sew together the events in the state (and world) that shaped what was happening at the time. It gives little insight into who the student body was and what they were focused on being and becoming. It shed very little light on the faculty and how their attitudes and scholarship have shaped minds, events, policies and attitudes.  Until recently (say, the last 20 years), very little was known about the people who work at the university and how their roles have influenced the direction of programs, resources and outcomes.

So, here’s a little gift: some other places to look. It’s not complete, and probably never will be. At this point, most of it is publicly available. I may add other resources in the future (that’s the beauty of blogs, right?)

History and Historical Data of Virginia Tech – the starting page for the official VT history. It includes a link to the Historical Digest where we read from (based on the past Presidents) 

Historical Documents and Publications — there’s all sorts of history here, including the 1922 History, which gives a sense of the place and people inhabiting it. The photos are impressive – bet you can’t get a sense of where everything was from these.

VT Magazine – dates back to 1990 in archives. This is a bit more than just a casual read-through, but just glancing at the covers and noticing the focus of the issues can help you get a sense of what was happening in/around the university.

VT’s Wikipedia Page – robust in its coverage of the University, generally. There are some history nuggets tucked within.

There may also be department or college histories that are available within your program of study. You may be able to dig through web pages [About pages are usually a good bet], or ask some of the faculty/staff members where you might find it.

Last but not least, your program’s dedicated librarian will likely know something about what might be available. If you haven’t had an opportunity to meet her/him this might be the perfect time to do so. You can find Library Guides here that include info on how to contact the librarian who specializes in each area.

Every person who invests their time and spirit at Tech – albeit student, faculty or staff – leaves a mark here.  It may not be openly clear or evident, but it is a mark nonetheless. I hope that in the next 50 years the effort put into learning other people’s stories, developing lifelong learners and creating a community that can proudly illuminate its attitudes/policies/practices around equity and inclusion, will support Tech in continuing to become a world-class institution of learning for all who attend. After all, that’s the mission of land-grant universities (see APLU website for more).