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The Committee On The History Of Technology And Environment At The University Of Virginia

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.552.1 - 3.552.2

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Edmund P. Russell

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3661

The Committee on the History of Technology and Environment at the University of Virginia Edmund P. Russell III Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication University of Virginia

In 1997-1998, the University of Virginia launched a new effort to promote collaboration. Convinced that bringing together scholars and students from across the university would enhance teaching and research, the provost's office, deans of three schools, and a private donor funded a Committee on the History of Technology and Environment. This paper describes the genesis, activities, and plans for the committee.

By the mid-1990s, several schools at the University of Virginia had hired scholars with interests in the history of technology and the environment. Most of those scholars held appointments in Engineering and Applied Science, Arts and Sciences, or Architecture. Some of those faculty members had collaborated with colleagues in other departments, e.g. by teaching courses and advising students. But, in an era of tight resources, there was no room to lessen departmental responsibilities in exchange for work done for other departments. Collaboration came as an overload, and students had limited chances to take courses not offered by their own school. Was there a better way?

Around 1996, several faculty members began looking. We wanted to enhance teaching and research by organizing the university's wide but scattered expertise, and we wanted to minimize the administrative apparatus required to do so.

In the end, we decided to propose the creation of a Committee on the History of Technology and the Environment. The committee would hire a postdoctoral fellow to take over some departmental teaching responsibilities. Committee members would cross list new and existing undergraduate and graduate courses to make them accessible to students from all schools. Those courses would form the core of new undergraduate minors and a graduate field (or fields). The committee would sponsor a seminar series to bring in scholars from outside the university.

We thought this plan made intellectual and practical sense, and we thought it might attract outside funding in the long run. In the short run, we needed start up funds.

We proposed this plan to chairs of our departments. With their support, we approached the Associate Dean for Research of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He encouraged us to contact the Vice Provost for Research, who had a keen interest in, and budget for, promoting school-wide initiatives. The Vice Provost promised about a fourth of the funding needed for the program for the first three years. He urged us to ask the Deans of Engineering and Applied Science, Arts and Sciences, and Architecture to match his contribution. We did, and they did. The Vice Provost also obtained funds from an outside donor to support the seminar series. Total funding came to about $150,000 for the first three years.

In early 1997, we hired a Postdoctoral Fellow. We advertised the job nationally, received applications from outstanding candidates, conducted interviews at a history convention and on

Russell, E. P. (1998, June), The Committee On The History Of Technology And Environment At The University Of Virginia Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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