Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




John R. Thelin


This study seeks to discover the elements in Virginia Military Institute's past that have proven most influential in guiding and preserving its present-day distinctive culture. Historical in nature, the study also incorporates theories from sociology and political science in analyzing the importance of events, people, and places surrounding Virginia Military between 1816 and 1890. Integral to the overarching theory behind this dissertation is the assumption that VMI's history is closely linked with the history of Virginia and of the American South. In order to tie historical theory to the theory of the elite college, the hypothesis relies heavily on four texts: Burton Clark's The Distinctive College, C. Vann Woodward's The Burden of Southern History, W. J. Cash's Mind of the South, and Bertram Wyatt-Brown's Southern Honor.;Specifically, the study hypothesizes that Virginia Military was heavily reliant upon Virginia state government from the time of its founding in 1839 through the Civil War. However, the war provided the circumstances by which the Institute could claim its own "place in history." The Battle of New Market, in which cadets from the Institute fought and died in support of the Confederate cause, gave VMI a substantive past separate from, yet tethered to, Virginia history and the history of the South. After the war, the Institute cultivated its own ideology and traditions, creating what Burton Clark terms "an institutional saga." Self-realization of this saga, coupled with its external recognition by alumni, forged the distinctiveness exhibited by Virginia Military today. In turn, this distinctiveness, preserved by a conservative even reactionary ideology, created an institutional atmosphere reluctant to embrace change.



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