Updated Focus Statement

Here’s another attempt to update my focus statement which, by all accounts, is probably way too long:
Between 1914 and 1924 the Virginia Tech community negotiated the cataclysmic and dynamic decade surrounding the First World War. I want to look at Virginia Tech during this decade to see how the university community responded to and was shaped by its experiences during the First World War. I argue that within this crucial decade Virginia Tech faced some of its gravest challenges since the institution was founded in 1872. Three periods emerge in this study. During the pre-war period (1914-April 1917) the Virginia Tech community debated possible American involvement in the conflict, revealing small, but significant, fault lines within the community. Throughout the war (April 1917-November 1918) the community was in a state of constant flux as the university lost faculty members to conscription, dealt with the everyday realities of war, faced numerous leadership changes, and eventually confronted direct federal takeover of the campus itself. Finally, in the post-war years (1919-1924) community identity changed as student enrollment doubled, women began to enroll in the university, and when university officials debated removing military components of Virginia Tech education entirety.
To build my argument I rely upon a rich primary source base located at Virginia Tech which includes the collected records of university presidents Joseph Eggleston and Julian Burruss, the campus newspaper The Virginia Tech, a handful of student scrapbooks, the college yearbook The Bugle, the Blacksburg newspaper The Montgomery Messenger, college promotional material and publications, and Board of Visitors minutes. This project seeks to shift broaden our understanding of the place of higher educational in the First World War by focusing on a land-grant institution and it asks us to consider colleges as not only places were learning happens, but places where durable communities and identities are forged.

I’m sure this will change even more over the course of my project. I wanted to find a way to talk about continuities in the community through this decade as well, because these continuities reflect the entrenched ideas about gender, race, and masculinity, but I failed to find a proper way to do so. Virginia Tech changes in this period, but important continuities exist as well. A question to pose to my peers and faculty.




5 thoughts on “Updated Focus Statement”

  1. Hey Daniel, besides student scrapbooks, do you have any other sources from which you can understand students’ perspectives on events during this time of great change? You have great resources on Burress and Eggleston, and I am wondering if you have any student equivalents?


    1. So far I’ve found no student that wrote directly about their wartime experiences on campus. The records of Burruss and Eggleston are obviously unique and there would be no records as extensive from a student perspective as their papers. This means, as most others who write institutional histories, I will have to rely upon finding student voices through the sources I listed. Student voices appear in presidential records, in the yearbook, in the newspaper, and in their scrapbooks. This also means I have to read between the lines, like any social historian, to find their voices and bring them to light. I also plan to corroborate what I’m observing by looking at students at assimilate institutions, particularly VMI (which is an apt comparison because the institution is very similar to Virginia Tech).


  2. I think you have the beginning of your thesis proposal in this blog! I think if you cut this down to the bare bones, you would have a great focus statement too. I’m excited to hear you talk more about masculinity, gender, and race in class today. It sounds like these three elements could put a fascinating spin on your campus history.


  3. Daniel,

    I think it may be helpful if you made your argument a little more clear in this focus statement. You certainly make a strong case for this being a time of great challenges at Virginia Tech, but maybe you can strengthen this by considering how these challenges affected the university.



    1. Kevin, I tried to do this in my focus statement but I know I failed to do so. My main problem is that there seem to be so many changes that it’s hard to fit within one paragraph. Maybe talking about it in class today can help me categorize and highlight what I think is important to come out in my focus statement.


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