Rare Books Program launches Big Names on Campus

Blog looks at the scientists featured -- and not featured -- on Killian Court buildings

Carved namesIn conjunction with the Institute’s celebration of a century in Cambridge, the Rare Books Program in MIT’s Institute Archives and Special Collections (IASC) has launched a new blog, Big Names on Campus. A look at the lives and works of the scientists whose names watch over Killian Court, it also considers whose names might be missing from this “who’s who” of the history of science and technology.

One hundred years ago, MIT relocated to Cambridge, moving across the Charles River from its original home in Boston’s Back Bay. The move afforded MIT the opportunity to make more deliberate choices about the shape and form of its new campus. In May 1915, President Maclaurin asked members of the faculty, the Corporation, and “a few outside men prominent in certain branches of science” to suggest names to be carved into the attics of the new campus buildings. Today, these 115 giants overlook faculty, students, and passersby from the lofty attics of what is now called Killian Court.

Twice-weekly blog posts will consider some of these figures from the perspective of the IASC collections: Which names are still known today? Which are not? Which scientists are represented in IASC holdings, and which are absent? In addition, the blog will imagine what names would be chosen if MIT planned the carvings today — whom from the past century might be included?

“MIT created a scientific pantheon when they carved 115 names into the limestone of the Cambridge campus,” says Stephen Skuce, head of the Rare Books Program, who worked on the project along with archives assistant Sara Powell. “The people named were exclusively male and overwhelmingly European, and all died prior to 1916. One hundred years later, we decided to ask what other names might deserve a place alongside them.”

Skuce and Powell hope the blog will offer a new perspective on these now-familiar sights on the MIT campus and shed light on key figures in science and technology who are too often overlooked. New names will be added throughout the summer.

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