Some Research Questions

Over the past few weeks I’ve started to pour through secondary and primary sources related to my project. Below are five questions I’ve developed from those explorations and why I think each question deserves to be answered.

  1. The Virginia Tech that existed in 1914 is substantially different from the Virginia Tech that existed in 1922. Why, over eight years, was there such a dramatic change?
    • As I’ve noted before this is my guiding question for my entire research project. This is one of the most important questions I’m asking because every other question on this list could be a sub-question of this one. Obviously, I think the answer to this question ties into World War I, but I’m keeping my guiding question open-ended in case it leads me down roads I do not yet foresee.
  2. Was there enthusiasm for the war among the students, faculty, or local community? What kinds of reactions and were they different?
    • This weekend I read Jeanette Keith’s Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight: Race, Class and Power in the Rural South During the First World War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and was surprised to learn that the greatest resistance to American involvement in the war came from the rural South. After combing through The Virginia Tech (the student newspaper) I was surprised to find widespread and early enthusiasm for American entry into the Great War on behalf of the student body. I want to find out if Virginia Tech students were an anomaly in embracing the war compared to the local community of Blacksburg and the surrounding area. I also want to investigate whether civilian faculty members embraced the war with as much enthusiasm as their students and if civilian faculty differed in opinion from military faculty members.
  3. How did war mobilization affect the university and student population at Virginia Tech?
    • This question is going to be a huge portion of my research. War mobilization affected innumerable facets of American life before and during the Great War. At Virginia Tech mobilization most seriously affected the student population. In 1916 Congress formally established the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in a effort to grow the American officer corps. According to the numbers I’ve added up, by 1918 75% of the Virginia Tech student body was enrolled in the ROTC program.  Then, in 1917, Congress established the Student Army Training Corps (SATC) which conscripted every college aged male (in college or not). Being an all male college, by 1917 nearly every student at Virginia Tech faced the prospect of going to the front.
  4. Other than ROTC and SATC, did student life significantly change during the period I’m researching?
    • This will probably be a more difficult question as it will require me to read between lines and make deeper inferences about the primary source material I’m looking at. Obviously, with Virginia Tech being a college, I hope to make campus culture/student life a part of my paper. Mundane things like the courses students took, changes in course requirements, uniform changes, campus activities, and even student conduct violations can reveal a lot about student life during the period.
  5. How did the war affect the lives of any female staff members at Virginia Tech? Was the war a factor in women being admitted to Virginia Tech in 1922.
    • Back to my guiding question, one of the most remarkable changes at Virginia Tech to occur between 1914 and 1922 was the entrance of female students. Though women were a very small presence on campus in 1922, it was a very large change for a university that was previously all male. I want to know if the war played any part in women being admitted to Virginia Tech. Furthermore, I want to know what happened to female staff members that were working at Virginia Tech during the war. Did they fill roles at the university that were previously only filled by men?
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7 thoughts on “Some Research Questions”

  1. Your questions really begin to get at my comment on your XYZ post! A couple of thoughts about your last question. 1) Talk to Faith Skiles. She researched this question of the first women at VT, as part of her internship with the Women’s Center project to write a history of women at VT. She has an forthcoming article on the first female instructor that I’m sure she’d share. 2) I wonder if there’s a way to look for expressions of masculinity as part of a study of VT and WWI. If war affects presence of women, wouldn’t it also affect presence of men and meanings of manliness,masculinity?

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  2. “After combing through The Virginia Tech (the student newspaper) I was surprised to find widespread and early enthusiasm for American entry into the Great War on behalf of the student body. I want to find out if Virginia Tech students were an anomaly in embracing the war compared to the local community of Blacksburg and the surrounding area.”

    This immediately raised two questions for me: (1) where were students coming from? Could their background have something to do with this? and (2) what oversight was the student newspaper subject to? Would antiwar material be discouraged from the administration?

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    1. Jonathan, most students were Virginians and many (if not most) were from rural areas. A number of students were from more urban places like Richmond, Norfolk, and Roanoke; but in the early 1900s these cities were very different from what we know them as today. Additionally, the majority of these students were probably Democrats, they were all male, and they were almost all white (I think there were a couple Latin-American students who attended the university by this point).

      To answer your second question, I don’t know what administrative oversight there was over the newspaper. I assume there were faculty/administration members who served as advisers to the student editors, but I don’t know who they were. Obviously antiwar material would not have been published by students or many other state and national papers due to the 1918 Sedition Act. However, the enthusiasm I’m seeing largely comes from articles talking about debates in the Maury and Lee Literary Societies on campus. These literary societies held weekly debates which were attended by large numbers of students. As early as the 1914/1915 school year the societies were deciding in favor of helping the allies by arming them, building a stronger navy, mandating mandatory military training in all American colleges and high schools, and increasing the size of the peacetime Army. As far as I know there are no transcriptions of these debates (which is unfortunate), but this early in the game plenty of people were talking about America staying out of the war without fear of censorship. These debates seem like an early embrace of preparedness and I want to find out what faculty/administration members may have been saying in their personal correspondence.

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  3. Daniel, I’m interested in your second question, reception has been a hot topic for me lately. I’m curious as to how wide the pocket of enthusiasm for the war might have been. You mention student enthusiasm and possibly local support as well, but I’m curious if the support may have been regional, southwest Virginia or something like that? I know that might be drawing you away from your main focus, but if it was indeed a regional sentiment then it would be worth noting where the draw came from and how it affected students at Tech.

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  4. I think these questions are really strong. Have you looked at what percentage of the school was military? Essentially, was there a civilian student body at this time or was the school totally comprised of the corps? I think this is important to look at as well, because if there was no civilian population then there will most assuredly be more war-oriented drive here than at a civilian institution. Which could set you up for a really great comparison.

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    1. Being a member of the Corps of Cadets was mandatory during the era I’m looking at, so 100% of students were taking part in military training. After the war, I believe around 1922/4ish the Corps became optional from your Junior through Senior year.

      And yes, there probably was more enthusiasm for the war at Virginia Tech than places like UVA because of the existing military nature of the institute.

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