Teaching surveying

MIT Civil Engineering Department Equipment Tripod and Level, C. L. Berger and Sons, c. 1880s

For nearly a century, civil engineering students learned the craft of surveying as a vital part of their education. MIT “Civils” drew inspiration from the accomplishments of famous land surveyors the world over. To build a neighborhood or a nation required precisely established land maps based on careful observations and mathematical calculation. The tools included this level and tripod as well as telescopes, alidades, and theodolites.

During the semester, students would practice the techniques of surveying around Boston and some joined faculty members on special summer expeditions. These trips inspired the requirement that all civil engineering majors participate in an intensive summer surveying camp. In the 20th century, that program was based at Camp Technology, a 10,000-acre site in East Machias, Maine. Several departments hosted similar field training programs, from field geology and mining camps in New Jersey to the Chemical Engineering Practice Schools at industrial sites around the country. These programs allowed students to master the methods of their fields and also provided opportunities for networking and teamwork in an informal setting.

Exhibited: MIT Civil Engineering Department Equipment, Tripod and Level, C.L.Berger and Sons, c. 1880s.
Photo: Michael Cardinali for MIT Museum.