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The People's School

A History of Oregon State University

William G. Robbins

6 × 9. 24 B&W photos. Notes. 6 tables. Index. 416 pages.

2017. ISBN 978-0-87071-898-4. Paperback, $35.00.

Available October 2017

The People’s School is a comprehensive history of Oregon State University, placing the institution’s story in the context of state, regional, national, and international history. Rather than organizing the narrative around presidencies, historian William Robbins examines the broader context of events, such as wars and economic depressions, that affected life on the Corvallis campus. Agrarian revolts in the last quarter of the nineteenth century affected every Western state, including Oregon.  The Spanish-American War, the First World War, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Second World War disrupted institutional life, influencing enrollment, curricular strategies, and the number of faculty and staff. Peacetime events, such as Oregon’s tax policies, also circumscribed course offerings, hiring and firing, and the allocation of funds to departments, schools, and colleges. 


This contextual approach is not to suggest that university presidents are unimportant.  Benjamin Arnold (1872-1892), appointed president of Corvallis College by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, served well beyond the date (1885) when the State of Oregon assumed control of the agricultural college. Robbins uses central administration records and grassroots sources—local and state newspapers, student publications (The Barometer, The Beaver), and multiple and wide-ranging materials published in the university’s digitized ScholarsArchive@OSU, a source for the scholarly work of faculty, students, and materials related to the institution’s mission and research activities.  Other voices—extracurricular developments, local and state politics, campus reactions to national crises—provide intriguing and striking addendums to the university’s rich history.

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