Earlier today, I got an email from Kenny Friedman ’17, who took my course last fall. Long story short: while researching some old media appearances of Professor Chomsky, Kenny, with the help of the MIT Museum, unearthed a lost (literally: it had been misnamed and misfiled) MIT Admissions recruitment video from 1969 called MIT: Progressions.
I’d seen (and we’ve posted) MIT: The Movie (1992), which was (unbelievably) still used on fall travel recruitment well into the aughts. There’s an even older silent movie called Technology (1934) that was sent by reel across the country to help prospectives understand the place.
But what’s amazing to me is the salience and relevance of this film. The student activism of 1968-1969 — against the Vietnam War, against nuclear armament, for civil rights — was arguably the single most politically active moment in the Institute’s history before today. In this video we see antiwar protests (led by Chomsky) outside Stratton, students discussing the creation of the Black Student Union and the Undergraduate Association, professors describing the goal of the MIT education as to “combine, in perhaps a new way, rational inquiry and social concern…the ethos of talking about one’s knowledge, and the consequences of one’s possible actions which technology enables us to carry on.” And we see students give answers that might not be polished, or correct, or institutionally preferred, but honest, and direct, and compelling.
Lots has changed about MIT since this film. It’s especially obvious when you look at the demographics of the students represented then, much less diverse (in almost every imaginable way) than the population of MIT now. But, thanks to Kenny and the Museum, we have this incredible artifact that shows, 50 years ago, MIT making the public case for itself, to prospective students, with a strong message about the social and political aspects of scientific and technological developments, the autonomy and responsibility of its students, and the moral obligation of the community to deploy its considerable cultural and intellectual capital toward serving the nation and the world, especially in a time of great uncertainty and even existential danger. I hope, and believe, that remains true today.