The Idea: World War I and Virginia Tech

There’s no better place to begin my research journey than starting with my idea for a research topic. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I, more historians are turning their attention to the conflict to re-examine what the conflict meant, the ramifications of the war, and how the conflict began. Having spent the bulk of my adult life at Blacksburg I’m interested in looking at World War I and how it impacted American society through the experiences of those at Virginia Tech.

This is a topic I have worked on previously in a graduate history course last summer titled, Teaching Hidden History. The project that I developed in that course was an online educational module which used primary source documents to tell the story of Virginia Tech through the World War I era. Different sources were connected to various themes revolving around the war and were connected to larger trends apparent in American society. Topics I covered in this project included, but not limited to, the development of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), mass conscription, sedition, and suffrage.

All of the primary sources I used came directly from the University Archives located in Virginia Tech Special Collections. Two of the most invaluable archives were the collected papers of university President Joseph Eggleston and The Virginia Tech, which was the campus newspaper produced by Virginia Tech students. Two secondary sources heavily influenced me while creating this project, the first was David Kennedy’s Over Here: The First World War and American Society which focused on how World War I impacted American society and used the war to view 20th Century America. The second major text that influenced me was Christopher Capozzola’s Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen which made me think more deeply about how mass mobilization profoundly shaped the lives of students at Virginia Tech.

At this point I have a number of ideas about where to take this topic. I hope this course, along with feedback from professors and my fellow classmates, will help me find more direction in these beginning stages of research.

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2 thoughts on “The Idea: World War I and Virginia Tech”

  1. I think this an excellent idea and I can see dozens of ways you could see this topic through. I think beyond drawing from secondary literature about WWI and your own VT primary source experience, it might be helpful for you to consult other histories of colleges and institutions (and not just in the WWI-era). Historians of higher education pump this stuff out with some frequency. While Harvard or the University of Chicago probably had little in common with Tech, the ways historians have approached writing about universities will certainly be of interest to you. Maybe you could get clues of what to do (and not to do) and what approaches/topics will be most rewarding for Virginia Tech and WWI.

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  2. Even if you decide that a comparative approach isn’t the way to go, seems like Jonathan’s suggestion could still be useful. Could point out what’s not going on at VT and let you think about why VT is different?

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