Developing and Offering a Course on the History of a College of Agriculture

By Knauft, David | NACTA Journal, March 2006 | Go to article overview
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Developing and Offering a Course on the History of a College of Agriculture

Knauft, David, NACTA Journal


Students frequently have little background of the history of the college of agriculture in which they are enrolled. An understanding of this history can be useful for student appreciation of dynamics on their campus, as well as the importance of land-grant philosophies and contributions of colleges of agriculture to society as a whole. The background, content, and student response related to a course on the history of a college of agriculture are discussed in this article. Results of the initial offering of the course have been positive.


Fields et al. (2003) have summarized many key issues for the future of higher education in agriculture and related disciplines. Schools and colleges are addressing significant increases in student diversity through the development of new majors, the implementation of different student recruitment techniques, and changes in teaching and learning approaches (Fields et al., 2003, Wildman and Torres, 2002). As students enrolled in land grant colleges become more diverse (Dyer et al., 1999), they also bring with them a less well-defined understanding of the land-grant system and its origin. For example, over the last three years, during new student orientation to our College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) at the University of Georgia (UGA), students are told that they are now enrolled at a land-grant university. Out of approximately 600 incoming freshmen in the last three years, only one was able to correctly answer the question "What is a land-grant university?" and she was the daughter of a cooperative extension agent in our state.

According to a report from the National Academy of Sciences (1996), the future of land grant colleges will depend on how colleges respond to significant changes taking place in all aspects of their mission and their clientele. An understanding of the traditional role of land grant colleges, including the history of agriculture and of the land grant university system, is critical to the future of these colleges.

The Albert R. Mann Library at Cornell University has an electronic collection of the core historical literature of agriculture. In highlighting the value of this collection, the library has indicated the value of understanding United States history by including its rural life and agricultural heritage. The library mentions the centrality of agriculture to the American experience, how agriculture has shaped cultural values, and its value in understanding our country's economic, social, scientific, and technical experiences (Albert R. Mann Library, 2005).

Many undergraduate students in colleges of agriculture are not aware of the rich history of agriculture in their state or region, or of the land-grant system of the United States. Students' understanding of these issues is important in helping ensure their support of agriculture and the land-grant system in the future. Within this broader context, students' understanding of the specific history of their own college can help them make sense of campus politics, policies, and prejudices, and can provide a foundation for their support of the future growth and development of our colleges.

Based on the rationale presented above, the author developed a course on the history of his college, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) at the University of Georgia. The course is discussed in detail in this article.

Course Background and Information Resources

Several years ago a group of student leaders in CAES expressed to the college teaching administration a desire for a course on the history of the college. The students knew that agriculture had played a critical role in the evolution of the University of Georgia from a private institution chartered in 1785 to its current status as a publicly supported land-grant university (Dyer, 1985). They were concerned the university as a whole was unaware of the role that CAES had played in the larger history of the institution, and as a result the larger university community was not as supportive of the college as it should be.

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