Duke and the Evolution of Higher Education (2023-2024)


In the past half-century, Duke University has transformed from a well-regarded regional institution with just a few mainframe computers to a leading global university with a $12.1 billion endowment and an alumni network of over 160,000. But what has taken place over the last five decades to shape Duke into the institution it is today? 

To start, Duke has weathered the local dynamics of deindustrialization; navigated the financialization of the American economy; embraced accelerating revolutions in genomics and biomedical engineering; built a powerful model of interdisciplinary research and education; joined general trends toward international student recruitment; and forged a distinctive path to developing campuses in Singapore and China. This has all taken place while Duke has navigated dramatic changes in gender roles and race relations, the rise of social media, heightened political polarization and more.

Duke’s centennial presents an opportunity to place these and other key trends in historical context through oral history interviews with stakeholders and informants that have led, or been part of, the innovations that have shaped the university and the trajectory of higher education over the past five decades.

Project Description

This project team will generate a set of 40-50 oral history interviews that provide perspectives on the trends that have remade Duke over the past half-century. Team members will evaluate and choose a diverse set of informants, with a focus on administrators, faculty and staff members who can speak to Duke’s evolution over time.

The team’s work will proceed in four phases:

  1. Level-setting: Team members will explore methods of oral history interviewing; engage with the histories of Duke, Durham and higher education; and participate in teambuilding exercises such as walking tours and a visit to the Museum of Durham History.
  2. Theme and interviewee identification: Team members will determine the guiding trends and themes they wish to explore and identify individuals to invite for interviews. Team members will work together to develop interview guides with input from Duke Libraries about terms for accessibility and reuse.
  3. Oral history interviews: Students will conduct oral histories and continue to refine interview scripts based on additional research and feedback.
  4. Website development: Students will build a website to showcase and archive transcripts and audio for future use.

Anticipated Outputs

Oral history interviews; website; report including key themes, methods and biographical information of interviewees

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 4 graduate/professional students and 12 undergraduate students with strong writing skills and an interest in learning about the history of Duke and higher education. Students with experience in journalism, exposure to qualitative research methods, a history of engagement with the history of Duke (e.g., undergraduate tour guides) and experience with website design and development would be particularly strong candidates.

All students on the team will hone skills in historical research; learn best practices in oral history; engage deeply with the evolution of Duke University and higher education; and gain experience in the execution of a complex, collaborative project. Graduate students will also gain skills in facilitation, mentorship and project management.


Summer 2023 – Summer 2024

  • Summer 2023 (optional): Begin background reading; conduct preparatory research; begin IRB engagement
  • Fall 2023: Participate in teambuilding and level-setting exercises; complete oral history training; solidify thematic foci and interview plans; pilot interviews
  • Spring 2024: Continue interviews and transcription; create summaries and biographic sketches; build website
  • Summer 2024 (optional): Finalize website


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

This Team in the News

New Project Teams Will Delve Into Duke’s History to Mark the Centennial


Image: Five Women at Duke University, 1976. From the University Archives Photograph Collection.

Five women walking through an archway on the Duke University campus.

Team Leaders

  • Edward Balleisen, Sanford School of Public Policy|Arts & Sciences-History
  • Mary Pat McMahon, Student Affairs
  • Jenette Wood Crowley, Office of Undergraduate Education

/graduate Team Members

  • Chase Pikarsky, Liberal Studies-AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Sanjana Anand
  • Connor Biswell
  • Luke Flyer
  • Amy Guan, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Faith Ho, DKU Interdisciplinary Studies (BA)
  • Shivam Jain, Biophysics (AB), Chemistry (BS2)
  • Holland Keegan
  • Ishanvi Malayanil
  • Viktoria Wulff-Andersen, Political Science (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Gary Bennett, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Charles Clotfelter, Sanford School of Public Policy