Skip to main content

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering records

Identifier: AC-0184

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The collection has two series. Series 1 is administrative records. Series 2 includes building plans for and a booklet about the River Hydraulics Laboratory and specifications for the Hydrodynamics Laboratory.

The digital material in the collection is found in Series 1. It consists of recordings to a conference comprising mostly RealMedia videos and an html file. Also in this series is the archived website of the Department.


  • 1928 - 2010


Access note

This collection must be reviewed to identify any restricted material before access can be granted. Please submit your requests at least ten business days before your desired visit to allow time for this review. An archivist will respond within five business days to let you know whether your requested material is open. For complete information on this policy, see our Statement on Accessing Institute Records.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.

Historical note

Heads of the Course and Department:

John Henck, 1865-1881 George Vose, 1882-1887 George Swain, 1887-1911 Charles M. Spofford, 1911-1935 Charles Breed, 1935-1943 John Wilbur, 1944-1960 Rolf Eliassen, 1960-1962 (Acting Head) Charles L. Miller, 1962-1969 Peter Eagleson, 1970-1975 Frank Perkins, 1975-1980 Joseph M. Sussman, 1980-1985 David Hunter Marks, 1985-1992 Rafael L. Bras, 1992-2001 Chiang Mei, 2001-2002 (Acting Head) Patrick Jaillet, 2002-2009 Andrew J. Whittle, 2009-2013 Markus Buehler, 2013-

Classes in civil engineering were offered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when students were first admitted in 1865. First designated Course II, it exchanged positions with Mechanical Engineering in 1873 to become Course I.

MIT course catalogs from the 1860s and 1870s document the curriculum focus on surveying, roads, railways, and canal construction as well as a growing emphasis on water supply issues and distribution.

A key element of the curriculum was the study of bridge construction. In the summer of 1872, Professor Henck and fifteen students traveled to examine major railroad bridges over the Hudson, Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Student thesis topics for this period show a concentration on aspects of bridge design.

In 1887, a summer course in surveying was held in South Deerfield, Massachusetts on the Connecticut River. The on-site summer studies moved to different locations throughout New England until a permanent summer surveying camp was established on Gardner Lake in East Machias Maine, which held its first session there in 1912 and continued through 1953.

In 1889, Civil Engineering merged with Course XI, Sanitary Engineering, and in 1892, the name of the department was changed to Civil and Sanitary Engineering. By 1911, when Charles M. Spofford became its head, the department had been organized into four divisions: Hydraulics; Structures; Surveying; and Railroad Engineering. The Railroad Engineering division was discontinued in 1933.

In the 1920s the first soil mechanics course and laboratory were created, under the direction of Karl Terzaghi. In 1934, Course XVII, Building and Engineering, was added to Course I and in 1961 or 1962, Sanitary Engineering was dropped from the name of the department. In 1992, reflecting further changes in the department's focus, Course I was renamed the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

In 1950 a new Hydrodynamics Laboratory (later named The Ralph M. Parsons Laboratory) was built, the laboratory was directed by Arthur Ippen. Early laboratory facilities for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering had been previously housed in the River Hydraulic Laboratory, which stood where the Sloan Laboratory now stands at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar St. The River Hydraulic Laboratory was founded in 1930 with funds provided by John Aldred, a member of the MIT Corporation. In the early 1990s, funds from the National Science Foundation, alumni, and friends allowed for a $1.6 million renovation of the Parsons Lab to include a new microbiology laboratory, expanded computational facilities for modeling environmental transport, and a major refurbishing of the existing chemistry, biology, and hydrodynamics laboratories. In 2003 the Parsons Lab was renovated again, this time to include a new second floor over the hydrodynamics laboratory and a new laboratory space dedicated to genetic research.

In the 1960s Charles Miller established the Civil Engineering Systems Laboratory, it was one of the first computer labs for civil enginering students in the United States; the department was one of the first at MIT to incorporated computers into teaching and research.

The 1970s was a time of rapid growth for the department's interdisciplinary research and educational efforts in project management; transportation; building technology; and in environmental areas. The Sea Grant Program, Center for Transportation Studies, Urban Systems Laboratory, and Energy Laboratory are early examples of collaboration.

In 2015 the department operated two laboratories – the Parsons Laboratory for Environmental Science and Engineering (Building 48), and the Pierce Laboratory for Infrastructure Science and Engineering (Building 1) to carry out research in set of five broad areas that are priorities for the department: Ecological Systems; Resources and Sustainability; Structures and Design;Urban Systems; and Global Systems.


2 Cubic Feet ((3 manuscript boxes, 1 cassette box)

624 Megabytes (54 digital files)

1 item(s) (1 archived website)

Language of Materials



Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Digital content from "A New Millennium Colloquium on the Future of Civil and Environmental Engineering" was originally on CD in collection. Joe Carrano, digital archivist, transferred the content to DDC digital storage in 2022 August.

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.

Processing Information

Digital content from "A New Millennium Colloquium on the Future of Civil and Environmental Engineering" was originally on CD in collection. Joe Carrano, digital archivist, copied the content off of the media using the CCA tools SIP Creator tool.

Preliminary Inventory to the Records of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Ready For Review
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2022 September 7: Joe Carrano, digital archivist, updated the collection level notes, extent, and listing to reflect digital media transfer accession 2023-008

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US