MARCH 2014, Page 5
VMI Institute Report
VMI History Course Re-established as Capstone
History majors at VMI
must complete an intensive
r e s e a r c h a nd wr i t i n g
course at the end of their
academic careers. The 14
cadets enrolled in the history
capstone course this spring
have an interesting topic to
tackle – VMI itself.
“The core of this class is
the research and writing of a
serious piece of scholarship
on the history of the Virginia
Military Institute,” said
Lt. Col. Bradley Coleman
’95. associate professor of
history. “It is the culminating
experience of their historical
The capstone experience
became a requirement for all
history majors, except those enrolled in the honors program, in 2002,
and since then, the intensive classes have taken on the personalities
of their professors. Topics have ranged from the Civil War to the
relationships between Latin countries and the United States. This year,
Coleman, who returned to VMI not only to teach but also to serve as
director of the John A. Adams ’71 Center for Military History and Strategic
Analysis, decided his capstone students should tackle their own history.
Preparing for the course also gave Coleman the chance to work with
his former mentor, Col. Tom Davis ’64, who was Coleman’s academic
adviser when he was a cadet. Davis had taught a VMI history class, and
the chance for the two to work together on the same subject seemed
“The initial concept was that Tom and I would teach this class
together,” said Coleman. “He would provide leadership, and then I
would be prepared to take it over.”
“Tom Davis has been very insightful in helping me design this course,”
The torch was passed to Coleman sooner than anticipated, however,
when illness prevented Davis was continuing.
Coleman also noted the aid of Col. Edwin Dooley, assistant to the
superintendent, in developing the class, and explained that Davis was one
of several speakers to talk to the cadets about the history of their school.
Other noted visitors include Dr. Rod Andrew of Clemson University, who
spoke to the cadets in January about military schools in the south, and
Dr. Laura Brodie, who attended the class in late February to talk about
the coming of women to VMI.
Listening to noted speakers is only a minor part of the capstone
experience, however. The course is designed to test the limits of these
“I designed it as the type of class you would expect them to encounter
in graduate school,” Coleman explained. “As I told them coming in, ‘This
is the capstone experience of
your education, and I expect
that this will be your number
one academic priority this
semester.’ And I pledged
to them they would be my
number one professional
Coleman is so committed to
this class that he is writing his
own paper, research on how
the Institute has celebrated
George C. Marshall over the
years. His intent is to model
the research and writing
process as he works alongside
the students. One thing he’s
learned in the process is that
he has a lot to learn about the
history of his alma mater:
“I have a Ph.D. in history. I
worked 12 years for the federal government as a historian. I didn’t know
a lot of VMI history. This was an opportunity for me to learn a lot more
about my school. I wanted to, … I needed to do research.”
So far, it seems as if Coleman’s enthusiasm is infectious.
“Studying the history of VMI is very important,” said John T. Curl II
’14, “There are many fascinating periods in the Institute’s history that
are not well known.”
Curl, for example, is researching VMI during the Reconstruction period
after the Civil War. He has already discovered how the Institute beat most
of the state’s colleges and universities in the race to get going again, and
every time he returns to the archives, he finds another new fact.
“During my short time in this class, I have already learned more about
the Institute than [in all] my previous years here,” Curl said.
Topics studied by the cadets cover a wide range, including one
Hollywood story, a research project on the life of Frank McCarthy ’33,
who served as an aide to Marshall in World War II and went on to win
an Academy Award for the movie
. All of the McCarthy papers are
available at the Marshall Library.
“That’s one of the projects I’m really excited about,” said Coleman.
The first drafts of their papers are due April 15, and that’s when the
real work begins.
“We’ll rip it apart, and then they will write, write, write, write,” said
Coleman, who added that peer review is also an integral part of the process,
“This course will be very beneficial to me in the future as a historian
because to complete the assigned project I will have to draw upon the
many research techniques taught and practiced in all the courses leading
up to the capstone course,” Curl said
Coleman has little doubt that they will be successful.
“They are fantastic young men and women, very talented,” he said.
“I’m really glad to have their company on this journey. We’re going to
learn a lot about VMI.”
Paul Barron, Marshall Foundation director of library and archives, talks
with cadets about artifacts relating to the history of VMI.
– VMI Photo by H.