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January 2013 (Volume 6, issue 4)

Democratizing American Higher Education: The Legacy of the Morrill Land Grant Act by David Staley

In May 2012, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a partnership to offer on-line courses, free to anyone anywhere in the world. There is a historical resonance in MIT's involvement in the MOOC (massive open on-line courses) movement. MIT is a land-grant university and the announcement came during the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land Grant Act which created the land-grants. Arguably the greatest democratization of higher education in history, the Morrill Act stressed that higher education should be practical and that it should be accessible. This month historian David Staley looks back over the 150 year history of this experiment in state-funded, democratic higher education.

• This article includes a podcast, images,  •


The Great Dome at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the nation's first land-grant institutions and now, 150 years later, a leader in providing free online courses. In spite of diminishing public funds for education, MIT still pursues the American goal of practical and accessible education.

Welcome to Origins

A project of the Public History Initiative and eHistory in the History Department at The Ohio State University.

Origins is a free and ad-free monthly publication (appearing on the 15th of each month).

In each issue of Origins, an academic expert will analyze a particular current issue –political, cultural, or social –in a larger, deeper context.  In addition to the analysis provided by each month’s feature, Origins will also include images, maps, graphs and other material to complement the essay. 

We hope that Origins will help you understand the world more fully, and that it will prompt you to think, debate, and learn.  The final goal of Origins is to make us all more informed, engaged citizens.  As the American philosopher John Dewey wrote, “History which is not brought down close to the actual scene of events leaves a gap.”  We hope Origins will help fill that gap, and we hope you enjoy what you find.

Nicholas Breyfogle & Steven Conn, editors
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Origins gratefully acknowledges the Center for Slavic and East European Studies, the Center for East Asian Studies, and the Middle Eastern Studies Center at The Ohio State University for their support of Origins.

Back Issues

January 2013: Democratizing American Higher Education: The Legacy of the Morrill Land Grant Act

by David Staley

In May 2012, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a partnership to offer on-line courses, free to anyone anywhere in the world. There is a historical resonance in MIT's involvement in the MOOC (massive open on-line courses) movement. MIT is a land-grant university and the announcement came during the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land Grant Act which created the land-grants. Arguably the greatest democratization of higher education in history, the Morrill Act stressed that higher education should be practical and that it should be accessible. This month historian David Staley looks back over the 150 year history of this experiment in state-funded, democratic higher education.

December 2012: "Merchants of Death": The International Traffic in Arms

by Jonathan Grant

As we try to sort out the causes and consequences of armed conflicts around the globe, we seldom ask the question: where do all those weapons come from that make these wars possible? With the United States racking up a record shattering $66.3 billion in overseas weapons sales last year, the question has become even more pressing. This month, historian Jonathan A. Grant looks at the history of the governments and individuals who have created a global trade in armaments. Except when they run afoul of the law, as Russian arms dealer Victor Bout did in 2011, these men tend to operate out of public view but the impact they have had on societies around the world is hard to over-estimate.

November 2012: From Commonplace to Controversial: The Different Histories of Abortion in Europe and the United States

by Anna M. Peterson

As the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, approaches, many Americans assume that legalized abortion is only as old as that ruling. In fact, as Anna Peterson discusses this month, abortion had only been made illegal at the turn of the 20th century. The different histories of abortion in Europe and the United States reveal much about the current state of American debates-so prominent in the 2012 elections campaigns-over abortion and women's health.

October 2012: Socialism Takes Over France, Again?

by Alice L. Conklin

After François Hollande’s victory in the French presidential elections in May followed by socialist victories in the more recent legislative elections, many commentators declared a decisive swing to the Left in Europe’s second largest economy, at a moment of intense political paralysis in the Eurozone. This month historian Alice Conklin explores why the socialists won now in France, after two decades out of power, and what their return portends for the future of the country. Rather than an extreme shift to “socialism,” French politics in the post-WWII era have been marked by a broad consensus across party lines over social policy and the basic architecture of the French welfare state.

September 2012: From Karl Marx to Karl Rove: “Class Warfare” in American Politics

by Sarah Brady Siff

In the midst of a presidential election campaign that pits a wealthy Republican businessman against a self-proclaimed warrior for the middle class, Americans are talking a lot these days about “class.” Many credit the Occupy Wall Street movement with making “class warfare”—which, in its contemporary use, is really about tax policy—a driving issue in 2012. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ original idea of class struggle emerged with the creation of a class of factory wage earners during the Industrial Revolution. Now the term is a slander used by conservatives such as Karl Rove to imply its historic connection to socialism. This month, historian Sarah Brady Siff explores the history of the ideas and practices of “class warfare” in American history.

August 2012: Russia and the Race for the Arctic

by Nicholas Breyfogle and Jeffrey Dunifon

Global climate change has caused unprecedented changes to the Arctic environment, especially a rapid decrease in the summer sea ice sheet. While perilous to the survival of the iconic polar bear, many humans are watching these changes with an eye to what riches an open Arctic Ocean might bring forth: in oil and gas, mining, and open-water transportation. Five countries can lay claim to the potential wealth of the Arctic Ocean: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States. But it is Russia and Canada in particular that have jumped out to the early lead in this new race for the Arctic. This month, Nicholas Breyfogle and Jeffrey Dunifon explore Russia’s long history in the Arctic and the roots of its current assertive policies in the region.

July 2012: Syria's Islamist Movement and the 2011-12 Uprising

by Fred H. Lawson

The events of the "Arab Spring" took the world by surprise. Yet, the roots of those rebellions run deep and nowhere more so than in Syria, where the fighting continues to be fierce and deadly. This month, Fred H. Lawson traces the history of one leading force in the ongoing Syrian uprising: the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The Brothers led a violent campaign to overthrow the Syrian regime in the 1970s, but more recently have advanced a platform that calls for liberal reform and constitutional government. Whatever the outcome of the current struggle, the Muslim Brotherhood is certain to play a central role in Syria's future.

June 2012: Humanitarian Intervention: The American Experience from William McKinley to Barack Obama

by Jeff Bloodworth

Many of us think of humanitarian intervention as a recent phenomenon of United States foreign policy. Certainly, critics of Barack Obama's intervention in Libya saw America's humanitarian involvement there as some new-fangled excuse to go mucking around in other countries. This month historian Jeff Bloodworth traces a much longer history of humanitarian intervention that goes back to the administration of William McKinley and is connected with the Protestant ideals of some of the nation's founders. Far from being new, Bloodworth demonstrates that humanitariansm has been a central concern of American foreign policy for a very long time.

May 2012: Climate, Human Population and Human Survival: What the Deep Past Tells Us about the Future

by John Brooke

The controversies generated by climate science in recent years center around the human relationship with the natural world and with natural resources. This month, historian John Brooke puts that critical question in historical perspective—deep historical perspective. For most of human history, our species had to struggle to survive powerful natural forces, like climate and disease. In the past three centuries, however, things have changed dramatically: that struggle has been reshaped by the unprecedented growth of the human population—from under one billion to now over seven. John Brooke's essay forces us to ask whether our population can continue to grow given the current Malthusian pressure on resources and on the earth system itself.

April 2012: A Century of U.S. Relations with Iraq

by Peter Hahn

As the American combat mission in Iraq comes to end, the Obama administration and Pentagon officials have repeatedly assured the world that American involvement with Iraq will continue. They are undoubtedly right. Since the founding of Iraq in the aftermath of World War I, U.S. policy has included cooperation, confrontation, war, and, most recently, an ongoing experiment in state-building. This month, Peter Hahn, an expert on the history of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East, examines this century of interaction between the two nations, giving readers a context in which to think about the future of that relationship.

March 2012: "Y'En A Marre!" (We're Fed Up!): Senegal in the Season of Discontent

by James Genova

In the summer of 2011, the streets of Dakar, Senegal filled with a mass of demonstrators "fed up" with the political machinations of President Abdoulaye Wade. Led by popular rappers, the oppositional collective "Y'En A Marre" became spokespeople for a generation at the end of their rope. As Senegal approaches critical elections in 2012, historian James Genova offers an eyewitness account of these political upheavals, placing the current turmoil in its broader historical and African context.

February 2012: Re-Mapping American Politics: The Redistricting Revolution Fifty Years Later

by David Stebenne

Alongside the Presidential nomination process, the most prominent American political news stories these days are about the heated, high-stakes struggles over redistricting. The modern era of reapportioning state and federal legislative districts began almost exactly a half century ago when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Baker v. Carr (1962). With the Supreme Court recently agreeing to hear a Congressional redistricting case from Texas, this month historian and legal scholar David Stebenne puts today's redistricting battles in historical perspective to understand better this decisive component of American politics.

 

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