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Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Course Catalogs

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AC-0598

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT ) Course Catalogs have been issued since the first year classes were offered at MIT beginning in 1865 and continue to the present (2016). The MIT Course Catalog is currently published each August by the MIT Reference Publications Office.

The word Course is used in a specific way at MIT. Each department or program within the Institute is identified by Course number. When capitalized, the word Course refers to an organized curriculum leading to a specified degree; otherwise, the word course, or subject, refers to an individual class.

For example, Course 2 or Course II refers to the Department of Mechanical Engineering; the numeral 2.05 (Thermodynamics) indicates a subject in Mechanical Engineering.

To understand developments and changes in the degree programs and development of curricula at MIT, one can use Course Catalogs in conjunction with sets of administrative records of the Institute. Catalogs complement the minutes of faculty meetings, and records of faculty committees which provide evidence of the development of research and teaching areas, faculty discussions on curriucula, proposed degree programs and other aspects of graduate and undergraduate education at MIT.

Publication titles for the catalogs have varied through the years (such as Catalogue, Catalog, Courses of Instruction, and Courses of Study). They contain a description of courses for each academic year, also program and degree requirements. In many years additional information is included into the catalog.

Early catalogs may also include the following: History and purpose of the Institute; Lists of professors, students, and graduates; Objects and regulations of the Institute; Conditions for admission and graduation; Residence information; thesis lists; building images and floor plans; Lowell Institute courses, degree programs and requirements; fees; courses arranged for officers of the United States Army and Navy.


  • Creation: 1865 - 2016


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open.

Digital Access Note

Some parts of this collection are available online. Links to specific online digital items are found within their entry in this finding aid.

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

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was incorporated on April 10, 1861 by an act of the Massachusetts legislature (chapter 183, Acts and Resolves 1861). On April 8, 1862 a meeting of the incorporation petitioners led by William B. Rogers, met and an organization for the Institute was established (at first named the Government, later re-named the Corporation). Bylaws were adopted, and officers were chosen to serve and a first meeting date for members of the Government was set for May 6, 1862. On that date the Government of MIT met and elected William B. Rogers as president. As the governing body started the work to form the Institute, several committees were set up including a Committee on Instruction and a Committee on Publication.

A key area was to establish a curriculum that reflected the objectives of instruction of the founders of the Institute. The Committee on Instruction, a group of nine, was chaired by William B. Rogers and included his brother Henry Rogers. A formal proposal from the Committee about a program of instruction was put before the MIT Government on May 30, 1864 and adopted. It was printed and the publication distributed as Scope and Plan of the School of Industrial Science of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as reported by the Committee on Instruction of the Institute, and adopted by the government, May 30, 1864.

Instruction began February 20, 1865 with 15 students. The first annual Institute catalog was issued and printed in 1865 for the academic year 1865-1866, incorporating developments and information first put forth in the 1864 Scope and Plan.


279040 Megabytes (15.5GB (127 PDFs); 257 GB in 41,783 files in 120 folders)

14.3 Cubic Feet (43 manuscript boxes) 15.5GB (127 PDFs); 257 GB (41,783 files in 120 folders)

Language of Materials


Accruals note

The catalogs have been published annually with a few exceptions.

No catalogs were issued in 1918 and 1919 which would have been part of the MIT Bulletin, volume 53 and volume 54. A catalog was issued in March 1920, volume 55. Because of the influenza outbreak, and also World War I, there was disruption in class schedules, a drop in the number of students on campus when many left for military service.

In the 1904-1905 school year the annual catalog became a part of a more comprehensive set of MIT publications published under the title "Bulletin." In the year 1904-1905 there is a catalog and a bulletin, after that are all titled Bulletin with varied subtitles.

As of 2016, the MIT Course Catalog continues to be issued in print form in August of each year (no. 1 of the MIT Bulletin). Through 2008 (2008-2009 catalog) catalog information and subject descriptions were in one physical volume. From 2009 (2009-2010) through 2013 (2013-2014) there were two physical volumes, one the Course Catalog, the other Subject Descriptions. The MIT Subject Descriptions have been issued in digital form only since 2014. (Subject Descriptions 2014-2015) by the MIT Reference Publications Office.

Location of Copies

Digital copies of course catalogs from 1865 to 1992 can be found in the MIT Libraries repository:

The MIT Reference Publications Office has digital copies of the print catalogs for the current and previous ten academic years on its website:

Location of Copies

Print copies of catalogs can be found in the Institute Archives and Special Collections reading room and in the circulating collection of the MIT Libraries, under the call number T171.M42.

Related Materials

Mind and Hand: the Birth of MIT, by Julius Stratton, Loretta Mannix, and Philip Alexander. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Scope and plan of the School of Industrial Science of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as reported by the Committee on Instruction of the Institute, and adopted by the government, May 30, 1864. in MIT Libraries.

Faculty Meeting Minutes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Distinctive Collections, collection AC 1.

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.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Course Catalogs
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

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