Title Reviewed:
A Century and Beyond: The History of Purdue University

Author Reviewed:
Robert W. Topping

George W. Knepper


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 85, Issue 3, pp 266-268

Article Type:
Book Review

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A Century and Beyond: The History of Purdue University. By Robert W. Topping. (West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1988. Pp. xv, 418. Illustrations, appendix, bibliography, index. $27.50.)

Visitors to Purdue University see a workaday campus embracing massive, functional-looking buildings; not a glamourous campus, but one that conveys a sense of ordered purposefulness. This visual impression is an outward manifestation of the university's essence. For over one hundred years a succession of strong, businesslike presidents molded Purdue into one of the nation's foremost engineering and scientific institutions. This book is the story of these presidential leaders, who they were and what they accomplished. It is, therefore, not so much a comprehensive history of the entire university effort as it is a series of mini-biographies of presidential leaders and their chief administrative assistants.

Although histories by their very nature deal with beginnings, Topping gives unusual attention to the historical forces that led to the creation of Indiana's land-grant college. Long sections dealing with pioneer society and with Justin Morrill's struggle to get his land-grant college act passed by Congress seem excessive; but once John Purdue, prosperous Hoosier farmer and entrepreneur, focuses Indiana's stumbling efforts to erect an A&M school by giving $150,000 to the cause, things start moving. Despite John Purdue's effort to direct the enterprise, the college was shaped by its presidents. From an early time they moved it toward a concentration on engineering, thus provoking agriculturalists who felt their interests were being slighted. In due time Purdue University would be recognized for its work in the agricultural sciences, but that part of its program was always overshadowed by its striking accomplishments in engineering and related disciplines. Aggressive presidents and administrators, many of them engineers by training, seized every new opportunity from aeronautics to computers to keep Purdue at the forefront of engineering science.

The dominance of engineering and the "hard" sciences is such that readers find no reference to the humanities until they have digested some three hundred pages of text. Frederick L. Hovde, Arthur G. Hansen, and other more recent presidents recognized that engineers and scientists needed the humanities for a well-rounded education, yet one reason Purdue made few efforts to excel



Courtesy Purdue University Photo.

in those disciplines was that Indiana University already had a strong foothold in them. As in most states with two flagship universities there was rivalry, but in the Hoosier state it was kept in bounds. On many occasions the two educational giants cooperated in pleading their cases before the legislature.

The story Topping has chosen to tell he has told well. This is not a sentimental book designed to warm the hearts of old grads, but it tells an important and useful story about people and programs that have had an impact on the world. In an epilogue Purdue's current president, Steven C. Beering, pledges that the university will achieve ever greater distinction in the future. Thus it has always been with America's great educational institutions.

GEORGE W. KNEPPER, distinguished professor of history, The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio, is the author of New Lamps for Old: One Hundred Years of Higher Education at The University of Akron (1970). Soon to be published is his new work, Ohio and Its People.

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.