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Mind and Hand: The Birth of MIT

A former MIT president and two colleagues describe the underpinnings of MIT in the European model of higher education and Enlightenment.
December 15, 2005

The story of how MIT came about begins long before the Institute opened its classroom doors one February day in 1865. To understand how and why the university was founded when it was requires a look back across centuries and continents to Enlightenment thinkers, the Industrial Revolution, and the European model of higher education. Mind and Hand: The Birth of MIT offers just that. The book traces the Institute’s European heritage, follows as ideas cross the Atlantic and influence the vision of MIT’s founders, and recounts MIT’s early years.

Mind and Hand involved three decades of work by three authors. In the late 1950s, former president Julius A. Stratton ‘23, SM ‘26, conceived of the idea for a more philosophical history of the Institute and initially hoped to have it completed in time for the 1961 centennial; but he was unable to find a writer. So when Stratton returned to Cambridge in 1971, after serving as chairman of the Ford Foundation, he took on the project himself. He collaborated closely with his longtime administrative assistant, Loretta H. Mannix, who continued working on the book after Stratton died in 1994.

The third author, Philip Alexander, a research associate in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, came on board to complete the project in 2003, after Mannix’s health declined.

“Anyone interested in the history of MIT was aware that this had been in the works for a long time,” says Alexander. Stratton and Mannix spent a considerable amount of time in the Institute Archives, combing through old letters, course catalogues, theses, and student notebooks – some of which are reproduced in the book – reconstructing the early days of MIT.

To unearth MIT’s intellectual heritage, they traveled overseas to consult with historians and archivists. “It was an enormous undertaking,” says Alexander. “They traced the origins in incredible detail. [The book] was really the focus of their love and attention for many, many years,” he says.

Stratton, who spent more than 50 years at MIT as a student, professor, provost, chancellor, and its 11th president, wrote in his preface that although the university has changed, “MIT’s core values remain – its cluster of ideas, its bedrock principles – even as adjustments are made over time in response to new ideas, demands, and needs.”

Mind and Hand is a thorough examination of the evolution of ideas that led to the founding of MIT; it was the philosophical underpinnings of the place that most interested Stratton. “This is not a history, therefore, in the usual sense,” he writes, “but more a reflection on the emergence of an institution.”

Mind and Hand: The Birth of MIT
By Julius A. Stratton and Loretta H. Mannix
MIT Press, 2005, $55.00

Other Recent Books from the MIT community

Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction: Prospects for
Effective International Verification
By Berhanykun Andemicael and John Mathiason, PhD ‘68
Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, $75.00

Performing Justice: Agitation
Trials in Early Soviet Russia
By Elizabeth A. Wood, associate professor of history
Cornell University Press, 2005, $49.95

China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia
By Peter C. Perdue, professor of history
Harvard University Press, 2005, $35.00

National Environmental Accounting: Bridging the Gap between Ecology and Economy
By Joy E. Hecht ‘88
RFF Press, 2005, $60.00

Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond
By Lawrence M. Krauss, PhD ‘82
Viking, 2005, $24.95

The Resilient Enterprise
By Yossi Sheffi, director, MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics
MIT Press, 2005, $29.95

“Sense of Place and Place-Based Introductory Geoscience Teaching for American Indian and Alaska Native Undergraduates,” Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53
By Steven Semken ‘80, PhD ‘89

We invite you to submit the names of books and papers published in 2005 and 2006 to be considered for this column.

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