The Virginia Tech community will get its first glimpse of the Council on VT History's work on March 20, as part of a showcase unveiled during Principles of Community week.

Established in late 2017 as part of the build-up to the university’s 150th anniversary in 2022, the council explores how Virginia Tech might recognize and acknowledge its history in the context of today and the Beyond Boundaries vision for the future.

The sesquicentennial provides a ripe opportunity to reflect on Virginia Tech's history, which has been closely associated with the history of Virginia, the history of the South, and the history of the United States. The goal of the council, which includes 22 members from across the campus community, is to draw lessons from the experiences that shaped Virginia Tech as an institution, while acknowledging those aspects of its legacy that reflected bias and exclusion.

“Virginia Tech started out as a land-grant institution formed right after the end of the Civil War, with an intent on educating people into the engineering, farming, and military frames,” said Bob Leonard, professor of theatre in the School of Performing Arts and chairman of the council. “Over the years, it has become far more inclusive than it was when it was started. Each step along the way represents significant histories, with different people coming into the institution and bringing different perspectives and experiences. It’s important for those stories to be told and honored. Each one is a celebration.”

The Council on VT History has developed a comprehensive approach for broad-based programming, endorsed and supported by President Tim Sands, reflecting the multiple perspectives of the university’s shared history.

The new showcase offers an early glimpse of the Council on VT History’s work, which is still in progress. As the university stands on the cusp of its sesquicentennial, its history offers a chance to re-evaluate its past, even as university leaders chart its course for the future.

“I believe sincerely that the stories we tell ourselves are who we are, individually and collectively,” Leonard said. “As we move into our own future, the stories that we hold dear and the stories that we hold publicly are really formative for where we’re going.”

The council will unveil its initial showcase at 3 p.m. on March 20 at Newman Library.

The showcase will include:

  • From Orange to Maroon. In 1997, history professor Peter Wallenstein wrote “Virginia Tech, Land-Grant University, 1872-1997.” He is now preparing a second edition, “Orange 2.0,” and a new book, “Maroon,” as an update on the intervening 25 years, as well as an upgraded reconsideration of the full history of the institution and its people and programs.
  • Historic markers. Campus Landscape Architect Jack Rosenberger is taking inventory, analyzing existing markers, and expanding interpretive signage on campus. The project will construct new markers and review text on existing plaques.
  • Public art. Landscape architecture professor C.L. Bohannon leads this project to retell the history of Virginia Tech through visual art in public spaces. The project uses landscape itself to examine the histories of the land and the people who lived on it before the campus was developed to look at the intersection of Virginia’s land-grant campus and public space.
  • If This Place Could Talk. Visualizing 150 Years of Virginia Tech’s History. Paul Quigley will present Virginia Tech’s history in its many dimensions, using innovative digital techniques to expose the unseen, reflect the full diversity of our shared past, and allow audiences to explore customized stories, places, themes, and populations over time.
  • VT Stories. The university’s oral history project collects stories of its alumni, faculty, staff, and community members that will help illustrate Virginia Tech’s complex history. Stories gathered by English professor Katrina Powell and her team will facilitate collaboration for presenting Virginia Tech’s history as told by those who lived it.
  • Voices in the Stone. Live performance in theatre, dance, and music will bring Virginia Tech’s histories to life. Coordinated by Paul Steger, director of the School of Performing Arts, Voices in the Stone creates narrative and performance events to illuminate those things in our shared histories and personal memories that often go unnoticed but which influence us on a daily basis.

The Council on VT History’s showcase in Newman Library marks just the beginning of a larger collaborative project that will unfold over coming months.

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