MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Diary of Robert Hallowell Richards, 1873

Cover of diaryIf you want to see how MIT Professor of Mining Engineering Robert Richards, Chemistry Professor John Ordway, and a group of nine undergraduates spent a summer vacation in June and July 1873, you can read a formal account of their excursion to mining camps in northern New England and the Adirondacks in the annual President's Report for the Year ending Sept. 30, 1873. Or you can look at the diary that Richards kept in 1873, which offers a more personal view of the trip. In his diary Richards recorded notes for courses he was teaching as well as his equipment packing list for the trip. You can later follow the progress of the trip via his notes about student assignments at mine sites and sketches of machinery. In these beginning years of MIT, there was still much discussion about methods of instruction. Undergraduates studying mining and economic geology were expected to spend a portion of their vacation investigating mining operations and submit a report on what they had learned. The summer excursion for mining students became a well-established part of the curriculum with trips to mining camps across the United States and Mexico an annual venture for many years.

Diaries are a popular form of writing, often kept while traveling. Some include detailed daily logs; others are full of personal thoughts, poetry, and drawings. Robert Richards recorded his thoughts in the form of quick notes or observations rather than elaborate prose. One can envision him using his diary as today's PDAs (handheld computers) are used. Two years after this 1873 diary, Robert Richards married Ellen Swallow, the first female graduate of MIT (S.B. 1873). The diary contains a few intriguing glimpses into this personal side of his life. One is a list of dates and places on the trip from which he wrote to her. On another page are notes about educating men and women together, with arguments for and against. He credits one of the "for" arguments to "Swallow."

Today some students choose to stay on for the summer session. Many students use the vacation months to gain further experience in their chosen field. Read about what some are doing "in their own words" in MIT Admissions blogs. MIT sponsors a host of programs in summer such as the "Discover Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences" trip for incoming freshmen; the MITES (Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science) and STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) programs for high school and middle school students; and continuing education courses through the Professional Education Programs.

The papers of Robert Hallowell Richards (MC 116) are available for research in the Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118.

Object of the Month: July-August 2001; July 2008; August 2010

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