Fall course to examine history of Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — 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.”

“Penn State: An Illustrated History,” written by Penn State historian Michael Bezilla, will serve as a de facto “textbook” for the course. Students will also have the opportunity to study digital archives of The Daily Collegian and La Vie, as well as student handbooks and other University correspondence, publications and reports located in the Penn State Special Collections Library to “analyze these moments in history principally through the lens of Penn State students who were here at that time,” Milligan says.

“I want students to use these primary sources to immerse themselves in significant moments in Penn State history and analyze them within the larger historical context of topics such as college admissions, race and gender relations, the balance between athletics and academics, and the roles a university should play during times of war, to name a few examples.”

Although students will have the opportunity to explore a host of significant moments in Penn State history chronologically, time will be devoted to four particular historical “case studies” around which Milligan created the course. Those case studies range from a debate during the 1920s and 1930s regarding the character of intercollegiate athletics, to three separate episodes of student protest in the 1960s and early 1970s involving issues related to student autonomy, African-American studies and admissions, and the Vietnam War.

Milligan says there is no prerequisite for the course, although familiarity with American history would be beneficial. Class discussions will comprise a sizable portion of aggregate class time. Students will write several analytical papers during the term as well as a longer paper on one of the four case studies analyzed during the semester. There will also be a mid-term examination.

Registration for “The History of Penn State” is now open via LionPATH at launch.lionpath.psu.edu. To learn more about the course, email Michael Milligan at mjm61@psu.edu.

Media Contacts: 

William Hessert

Work Phone: 
814-865-9988

Lead Writer, College of the Liberal Arts

Last Updated May 12, 2017