Engineers as Servant-Leaders of the Old South

Jonson Miller is Associate Teaching Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University. In 2014-2015, he was a Research Fellow of the Consortium. Here is a report on his project, "Engineers as Servant-Leaders of the Old South: The Southern Military Schools and the Foundation of the New South." My PACHS research fellowship allowed me to expand on my dissertation research and complete my book manuscript. For my dissertation, I used several state and university archives in Virginia, with a focus on documents relevant to the early history of the Virginia Military Institute. To complete my book, I needed to expand my research to include other military and engineering schools throughout the country, as well as other materials on antebellum engineering. My PACHS fellowship provided me with the resources necessary to do so. I visited five PACHS collections: • American Philosophical Society • Hagley Museum and Library • Historical Society of Pennsylvania • Library Company of Philadelphia • University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt and Rare Book and Manuscripts Libraries These archives possess materials from many institutions of higher education. This is not surprising, given that the Philadelphia area has been a major center of American education. However, the collections include materials from throughout the country as well. They also include other materials on engineering. These collections are of value to anyone interested in antebellum engineering. The materials in these collections include official publications produced by the schools and books and other publications by the schools’ officers. These materials provide information on school curricula, careers of graduates, and educational philosophies of the schools. I was able, for example, to compare the curricula of the military schools. I found that southern and northern military schools had comparable curricula. The important difference was not between North and South, but between public and private schools, with the latter generally serving as academies as well and offering more classical and business training so as to attract more of the students necessary for financing the schools. The state schools tended to offer more strictly engineering curricula. Regardless, all of the schools clearly drew upon West Point as their main model. The one difference that did seem to exist between northern and southern schools is that the officers of the northern schools tended to emphasize the improvement of or contributions to the country as a whole, whereas the officers of southern schools tended to emphasize contributions to their states. Philadelphia itself hosted several antebellum military schools, though all but what is now Widener University were short lived. Like seemingly all military schools in antebellum America, these schools emphasized engineering and scientific education. PACHS collections include materials on the following engineering and military schools: Philadelphia area military schools • American Classical and Military Lyceum (Mount Airy) • Franklin Institute (Philadelphia) • Literary, Scientific, and Military Institute (Bristol) • Mantua Classical and Military Academy (Philadelphia) • Pennsylvania Military Academy (West Chester and Wilmington, now Widener University) Other schools: • American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy/Norwich University (Norwich, VT) • Carolina Military Institute (Charlotte, NC) • Kentucky Military Institute (Frankfort, KY) • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY) • United States Military Academy at West Point • Virginia Military Institute (Lexington, VA) • Western Military Institute (Georgetown, KY and Nashville, TN) The collections included other materials on antebellum engineering, including textbooks, many of the annual reports of the Virginia Board of Public Works, and other publications on internal improvements. Among the important engineers and engineering educators represented in these works are: • Claudius Crozet (French; West Point, Virginia Board of Public Works, Virginia Military Institute) • Amos Eaton (American; Rensselaer Institute) • John Millington (English; worked and taught in England, Mexico, Philadelphia, and Virginia) • Alden Partridge (American; West Point, Norwich, established short-lived engineering schools throughout the east) The textbooks provide some insight into differing approaches to engineering that existed in the period. Some expressed rule-of-thumb methods, such as those practiced at Rensselaer in its early years, while others were more mathematics-intensive, like the curricula of West Point and the various military schools. A common thread in the textbooks and publications by the officers of the military schools was a critique of classical or liberal education. The authors commonly called for a more “useful” and sometimes democratic form of education. They offered both military discipline and engineering training as the ideal education.