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Bearing the Torch stands as a comprehensive history of the University of Tennessee, replete with anecdotes and vignettes of interest to anyone interested in UT, from the administrators and chancellors to students and alums, and even to the Vols fans whose familiarity with the school comes mainly from the sports page. It is also a biography of a school whose history reflects that of its state and its nation. The institution that began as Blount College in 1794 in a frontier village called Knoxville exemplifies the relationship between education and American history.
This is the first scholarly history of UT since 1984. T. R. C. Hutton not only provides a much-needed update, but also seeks to present a social history of the university, fully integrating historical context and showing how the volume’s central “character”—the university itself—reflects historical themes and concerns. For example, Hutton shows how the school’s development was hampered in the early nineteenth century by stingy state funding (a theme that also appears in subsequent decades) and Jacksonian fears that publicly funded higher education equaled elite privilege. The institution nearly disappeared as the Civil War raged in a divided region, but then it flourished thanks to policies that never could have happened without the war. In the twentieth century, students embraced dramatic social changes as the university wrestled with race, gender, and other important issues. In the Cold War era, UT became a successful research institution and entered into a deep partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratories that persists to this day. All the while UT athletics experienced the highs of national championships and the lows of lawsuits and losing seasons. UT is a university with a universe of historical experiences.
The University of Tennessee’s story has always been defined by inclusion and exclusion, and the school has triumphed when it practiced the former and failed when it took part in the latter. Bearing the Torch traces that ongoing process, richly detailing the University’s contributions to what one president, Joseph Estabrook, called the “diffusion of knowledge among the people.”