Massachusetts Institute of Technology Oral History Program, oral history interviews on the Physical Science Study Committee
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Scope and Contents of the Collection
The Physical Science Study Committee, and its subsequent offshoots, Educational Services Incorporated (ESI) and Education Development Center (EDC), sought to achieve a comprehensive change in the teaching of science, particularly physics at its inception, in the secondary school system. The genesis of the original committee was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1956 with a project initiated by Jerrold Zacharias, James Killian, and Francis Friedman.
James Killian, MIT President (1948-1959), President Eisenhower’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology (1957-1959), and key developer of NASA, summarized the influence of this committee’s work in his memoir, The Education of a College President: “Out of [the Physical Science Study Committee] was to come a revolutionary physics course for high schools, and in fact a curriculum reform movement with worldwide impact in which first-rate scholars in our universities turned their creative attention to the development of better teaching in precollege schools. I had the privilege of participating in this process by enthusiastically supporting Professor Zacharias’s initial concept and by running interference for him in launching and funding the PSSC program.”(1) The chapter in which this remark appears, “Trailbreaking in Education: Two Exemplars,” provides an account of the history of the Physical Science Study Committee.
The history of the project itself is well documented in the records of the Physical Science Study Committee and its offshoots (MC 79, MC 626). The oral history sought to bolster the documentation of this committee dynamically through interviews with Jerrold Zacharias, Philip Morrison, Jack Churchill, Nathaniel Frank. and other central figures.
According to Marc S. Miller, one of the primary interviewers of the project, the oral history of the Physical Science Study Committee was intended to document, through interviews with the principal participants, the “inception, philosophy, growth and subsequent off-shoots [of the Physical Science Study Committee], and its impact on curriculum reform.”
The collection provides extensive background material on both the process of the Physical Science Study Committee oral history project and the Physical Science Study Committee itself.
The collection consists of the transcripts of the interviews with principal members of the Physical Science Study Committee, background and reference materials relating to the individual interviewees, and the history of the Committee. Also included is a substantial amount of notes taken by the interviewers. These notes can be found in box 4, included in the interviewee folders. ______ (1) James R. Killian, Jr., The Education of a College President: A Memoir (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985), 167.
- Creation: 1956 - 1976
- Frank, Nathaniel H. (Nathaniel Herman), 1903-1984 (Person)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Oral History Program (Organization)
- Kelly, Harry C. (Person)
- Morrison, Philip (Person)
- Zacharias, Jerrold Reinach, 1905-1986 (Person)
This collection is open.
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The oral histories of the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) were created as part of the MIT Oral History Program, which was established in the 1974-1975 academic year under a grant from the Mellon Foundation to Dean Alfred Keil (School of Engineering) and Dean Harold J. Hanham (School of Humanities and Social Science). Dr. Charles Weiner, Professor of History of Science and Technology in the Technology Studies Program, directed the program during its existence. Within the program, in addition to interviews with such individuals as Harold Edgerton and Charles Stark Draper, interviews were conducted documenting women in science and engineering and the emergence of ocean engineering as a distinct program. The Oral History Program received major funding for an oral history of the development of recombinant DNA (MC 100). The program came to an end in the late 1970s when Professor Weiner’s focus at MIT shifted.
2 Cubic Feet (5 manuscript boxes, 2 audiocassette boxes)
Language of Materials
The Physical Science Study Committee, and its subsequent offshoots, Educational Services Incorporated (ESI) and Education Development Center (EDC), sought to achieve a comprehensive change in the teaching of science, particularly physics at its inception, in the secondary school system. The genesis of the original committee was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1956 with a project initiated by Jerrold Zacharias, James Killian, and Francis Friedman. The collection consists of transcripts of interviews with members of the committee, including Jerrold Zacharias, Philip Morrison, Jack Churchill, Nathaniel Frank, and other central figures, as well as background and reference materials relating to the interviewees and the history of the committee.
Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.
Processing Information note
Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.
- Preliminary Guide to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Oral History Program, Oral History Interviews on the Physical Science Study Committee
- Ready For Review
- Jason Paul Michel
- Copyright 2005
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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- 2021 August 25: Edited by Lana Mason to remove aggrandizing terms in the scope and content note description.
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