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Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oral History Program, oral history interviews on ocean engineering

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0089

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The collection consists of transcripts and tapes of interviews conducted by Enid Kumin of the MIT Oral History Program, 1975-1976. The collection emphasizes the development of ocean engineering at MIT and the major role the Institute played in determining the philosophy and educational methods and requirements of the new discipline. Interviews were conducted with key figures involved in ocean engineering at MIT, with MIT faculty, and with persons active in the design and administration of cooperative programs including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution-MIT joint ocean engineering program and Sea Grant College Program. Interviewees include Dean H. Horn, director, Sea Grant College Program; Alfred A. H. Keil, Ford Professor of Engineering; and William Walther Siefert, professor, civil engineering; Arthur Baggeroer, associate professor of electrical engineering and ocean engineering; Ole Madsen, associate professor of civil engineering; Lawrence Pierson, assistant dean of graduate studies, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI); and Alfred "Sandy" Williams, associate scientist, WHOI. Also included are tapes of the 4th and 5th annual MIT Sea Grant Lecture and Symposium, 1975-1976; lectures concerning the development of ocean engineering; and publications, course notes, reprints, articles, and other supporting documents gathered in preparation for conducting the interviews.


  • Creation: 1962 - 1976


Access note

Transcripts are open for research. Audio recordings of interviews are closed.

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 Ocean Engineering Oral History Collection is composed of interviews conducted by the MIT Oral History Program in the School of Humanities and Social Science, 1975-1976. The purpose of the project was to document the development of the field of ocean engineering; to understand the new technology used in the field; and to examine the ethical parameters devised for ocean engineering.

Project summary

The escalating demand for energy and food resources, and for additional land area along the crowded seaboard, has created a heightened demand for the wealth of the oceans. To supply the technology to reach ocean resources, the fields of marine engineering and naval architecture have been modified recently to become the field of ocean engineering. Ocean engineering approaches the use of the ocean with an important consideration: technological ability is only one of the criteria which govern the exploitation of the ocean. For the first time engineers are evaluating engineering projects carried out in the ocean environment with an eye to the balance between ecological concerns and technological advances.

This study was undertaken with three purposes in mind: first, to provide primary source material recording how and why ocean engineering developed and who was responsible for this development. The importance of such a record lies in its implications for other fields of technology faced with similar problems in keeping abreast of current industrial, governmental, and public demand. A history of ocean engineering promises to provide a case study of the methods used by one discipline to make major adjustments in education, research, and application.

A second purpose of this project was to compare the methods and implications of the new versus the old technology used in the ocean environment. Of special significance is the emphasis placed on systems planning in the new technology. The preference for systems planning may be yet another indication of a change in the philosophy of modern engineering. From the viewpoint of the history of technology, it is essential to understand how systems planning modifies the approach of the ocean engineer and the type of project he attempts.

A final purpose of this project was to examine the ethical parameters which have been devised for ocean engineering: their origin; their influence on ocean engineering; their significance for the future of technology in the ocean environment. Altering preliminary designs to meet environmental constraints and to resolve conflicting social and economic interests is not new to engineering. In most fields of engineering, however, social and ecological values have had a belated impact: the growth of technological expertise has far out-paced the growth of sensi¬tivity to other factors. A study of ethical parameters for ocean engineering is especially important because the technology necessary to exploit the oceans on a large scale has developed only recently. As a result it is possible to monitor the effect of non-engineering considerations when they are applied to a branch of technology in its initial stages.

The three foci of the history of ocean engineering have, in combination, a last, major significance: to amplify the complex and tenuous position of technological efforts in an ocean which is both international and irreplaceable.

The project was structured to provide three types of documentation related to the inception and growth of ocean engineering: 1) an archival file collected from pertinent published and unpublished material; 2) oral history interviews with a limited number of persons significantly engaged in major facets of ocean engineering; 3) taped lectures, seminars and meetings which will provide specific, current examples to illustrate a) the type of problem challenging ocean engineers, b) the nature of the controversy which surrounds the use of technology in the oceans, and c) the methods utilized to evaluate the wisdom and the technical feasibility of projects tentatively proposed for the ocean environment.

The persons selected for oral history interviews were chosen to 1) provide a survey of the emergence of ocean engineering in the form of taped accounts with individuals who have been cen¬trally active in developments, and 2) additionally document a number of sub-topics within the broad focus of the emergence of ocean engineering. The sub-topics addressed in this study are 1) the philosophy of ocean engineering; 2) the forces influencing its beginnings and present direction; 3) the design of curriculum; 4) the practical application of techniques; and 5) the potential for cooperation between public, industrial, and educational organizations, as illustrated by several existing programs. The project emphasizes the emergence of ocean engineering at MIT in recognition of the major role MIT has played in determining the philosophy, and educational methods and requirements, of ocean engineering since its official inception as a field of study. Specifically, interviews were pursued with key figures involved in instituting the concept and curriculum of ocean engineering at MIT; with MIT faculty who have designed courses which reflect the techniques and philosophy of ocean engineering (example: the interdisciplinary student design project); with persons active in the design and administration of cooperative programs in which MIT is a major participant (WHOI-MIT joint ocean engineering program; programs stemming from the Massachusetts State Office of Coastal Zone Management; Sea Grant).

The project was initiated and carried out by Enid Kumin, research assistant in the Oral History Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Use of each transcript, as is the case with all transcripts collected by the MIT Oral History Program, is guided by a permission form signed by the interviewee. Persons wishing to quote a transcript must obtain permission based on the restrictions specified in this form.


3 Cubic Feet (5 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript boxes, 1 box of 19 audiocassettes)

Language of Materials


Physical Location

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 Inventory to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Oral History Program, Oral History Interviews on Ocean Engineering
Ready For Review
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 August 25: Edited by Lana Mason for compliance with DACS single-level optimum requirements.
  • 2023 March 3: Revised by processing archivist Chris Tanguay to add access notes.

Repository Details

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

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
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