History of the Department of Ocean Engineering as an Academic Discipline

History of the Department of Ocean Engineering as an Academic Discipline

Ocean engineering, otherwise termed as oceanographic engineering, is said to be a vague discipline in the field. But the prime concern of this course or department is to support the work of oceanographers. It is also a field that focuses on supporting works behind maritime or offshore engineering. Basically, it is concerned about technical aspects linked to floating marine structures.


The Early History of the Department of Ocean Engineering as an Academic Discipline – Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The department was established in 1893. Back then, it was called as the Department of Naval Architecture. It was then called as Course XIII. The study focused on theories as well as methods on how to construct and design ships. Two years later, in 1895, the 1st five courses under the discipline were already awarded to deserving students.

After six years, in 1901, the department received a request which came from the U.S. Navy. This was then the time when the department opted to offer a course exclusive to the navy. Professional training for navy instructors took three years to finish. The course was then called Course XIII-A and was headed by MIT’s Professor William Hovgaard. The course had some variations with that of Course XIII since this one focused more on the warship design for ships.

In line with this, another course was also introduced – labeled as Course XIII-B. This was launched in the same year the X-III A started. This was exclusive to those who have graduated a Science Baccalaureate or S.B. degree under Course XIII and were interested to pursue a study how to design a war vessel.

The third course was also offered in this regard. This one was known as Course XIII-Option 2 and was primarily geared to training people interested to learn how ships are being operated. Funds specifically came from Charles G. Weld – famous for being a part of a family that owned ships in New England. His funds were used to open a shop wherein students can transform their drawings into so-called half-models.

Some Transitions that Took Place in the Department

From being the Department of Naval Architecture, the name was then converted to “Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering” in 1910. This was that time when the course was offered also to those who also want to become marine engine builders. Two years after that, students were taught more about aeronautics. This was after the US Navy started using airplanes during their missions.

MIT Timeline for the Department of Ocean Engineering

• 1913 – Laboratory of Aeronautics was established

• 1914 to 1915 – A degree in aeronautical engineering was opened.

• 1917 – A 10-week course specially focused on ship design was offered to support manpower shortage brought about by World War I.

• 1918- Another ten-week course together with a fifteen-week course was offered. This is for the purpose of filling vacated posts within the US Navy.

• 1936-1941 – Several courses were offered during the World War II years.

• 1967 – A new graduate program was introduced.

• 1971 – The name was changed to Department of Ocean Engineering.

• 1994 – The undergraduate curriculum was completely revised.

• 2005 – The department was merged with the Department of Mechanical Engineering taking the name of the latter as the department name for both.

Other Resources for the History of this Academic Discipline

Besides MIT’s history on the Department of Ocean Engineering, other institutions have other resources to share when it comes to their respective ocean engineering departments.

1. School of Engineering, University of Tokyo

2. University of Strathclyde, Engineering

3. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Department, University of Michigan

4. Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering Department, United States Naval Academy

5. Department of Marine and Environmental Systems, Florida Tech

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This Article is written by John C Arkin.


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