Episode 208: Jonson Miller

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It's not often that historians make the leap from interplanetary geology to the study of antebellum Virginia. But Dr. Miller is one such person. And maybe it makes sense that someone from southwestern Pennsylvania who did part of his education in West Virginia, would want to study the inner workings of planets (it's coal country, after all). Now, he is a professor at Drexel University. He's on the podcast to discuss his book on VMI.

VMI was a creature of the Jacksonian era--not because it was populated by Jacksonians necessarily, but because it reflected the struggle or political power between the upper and lower classes, Whigs and Democrats in antebellum America. The hope was that VMI would be a place where men could compete equally with one another, regardless of class, an equality predicated upon their superiority to women and African Americans. While it was and is a military school, VMI cadets did not have to join the military necessarily, and many of them went on to become teachers and engineers.

Founded in the 1830s, VMI was intended to give an education to men of western Virginia, a region that had trouble competing with the politically and economically powerful eastern regions, where planters and slaves were more numerous. As VMI's founders framed it, Virginia would be transformed by providing a military education to instill virtue in men of the emerging urban and middle classes. Today, VMI boasts 1,600 students in what has become the attractive college town of Lexington, just west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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