Introducing a Penn State History course

May 15, 2017

A few years ago a number of students and alumni came together through The Nittany Valley Society with a vision for a new course at Penn State—specifically a course on Penn State itself. After years of friendly pushing and relationship-building the course is almost here, and Penn State News has spotlighted the course:

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A course examining the history of Penn State from its founding as the Farmers’ High School in 1855 to its evolution as one of the nation’s leading research universities will be offered for the first time this fall.

History 197, “The History of Penn State,” will chronicle and evaluate changes that have taken place at Penn State over the past 160 years and explore them in the context of larger historical and socio-economic developments in American higher education during that time. In particular, the course will study the conduct, leadership, and educational vision of notable Penn State presidents, faculty, alumni and coaches; dimensions of student life (including student protest); race and gender relations; athletics; and the challenges of University life, research and admissions in the post-World War II era.

“The History of Penn State” grew out of discussions with several Penn State alumni who serve on the board of the Nittany Valley Society (NVS), which works to “cultivate appreciation for the history, customs, and spirit of the Nittany Valley.”  NVS Board member Steve Garguilo, 2009 alumnus in information sciences and technology, provided financial support for the course through the Stephen D. Garguilo Nittany Valley Society University History Endowment.

“This course has been a long time coming,” notes Michael Milligan, Penn State senior lecturer in history, who created and will be teaching the course. “Using Penn State as the backdrop, I want students to be able to analyze and interpret significant developments not only in American higher education, but in American history as well.”

This is an elective course that’s open to students of any major. It’s our hope that this will, in time, become available for Penn State World Campus students. The first class offering has 49 seats, and as of today roughly half those seats have been registered. Here’s how it appears in Penn State’s registration system:

The course description reads:

This course examines in a selective fashion the history of Penn State. The time period extends from mid-19th century origins as the Farmers’ High School to the multi-faceted, modern research university of the early 21st century. The course will study the conduct, leadership and educational visions of notable Presidents and faculty; dimensions of student life (including student protest); race and gender relations; athletics; and the challenges of university life, research, and admissions in the post-World War II era. The Penn State experience will be examined in the context of larger historical developments in American higher education, student life and attitudes.

The course will take a distinctly historical angle: with emphasis placed on chronicling and evaluating change over time and thoughtful consideration of a diversity of voices and perspectives. A wide variety of primary and secondary readings will be assigned, and students will write several papers (including a short research paper). Undergraduates of all majors are welcome.