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H&S History

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The School of Humanities and Sciences, formed in 1948, is the youngest of Stanford’s seven schools, although many of its departments date to the university’s founding in 1891. Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, initially organized Stanford into departments. But by 1916, this system had become too rigid.

In 1922, the School of Biology was established, followed by the schools of Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Humanities. In 1948, they were combined to form the School of Humanities and Sciences.

This timeline highlights the history of H&S, both before and after it became a school. 

  • 1891 Stanford University opens as a coeducational institution. Among its founding departments are Chemistry, Drawing, English Language and Literature, Germanic Languages, Greek, History, Latin, Mathematics, Philosophy (Ethics), Physics, Political Science, Psychology, and Romance Languages.
  • 1892 Hopkins Marine Station is established and becomes the first marine laboratory on the Pacific Coast and the second such facility in the United States.
  • 1899 Women enter the university in growing numbers. Concerned that the institution named for her son would become largely a girls’ school, Jane Stanford amends the Founding Grant to limit enrollment to 500 females, or 40 percent of the student body. The cap of 500 is reached in 1903.
  • By 1932, women make up only 14 percent of the student body and the Board of Trustees return to the ratio that existed in 1899. President Wilbur states, “For over 30 years the most outstanding handicap in the operation of Stanford University has been the limitation on women to 500.” In 1973, the ratio is eliminated altogether.
  • 1907 Professors Payson Treat and Yamato Ichihashi visit China. Afterward, Stanford becomes the first U.S. university to offer courses in Far Eastern studies.
  • 1919 Future Nobel laureate John Steinbeck earns a C in freshman English. Later, he says that his Stanford career (1919-25—he dropped out twice) was a waste except for his English professors Edith Mirrielees and Margery Bailey.
  • 1920 History Professor Yamato Ichihashi, one of the first scholars of Japanese descent to teach in the United States, is appointed to Stanford’s first endowed professorship. Ichihashi raised funds in Japan for the chair in Japanese History and Civilization. During World War II, Ichihashi and his wife Kei are sent to internment camps with 34 Japanese-American Stanford students.​
  • 1928 Dutch microbiologist Cornelis B. van Niel joins the faculty at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. Regarded as the father of microbiology in the United States, van Niel makes key discoveries about the chemical mechanisms of photosynthesis. Stanford biochemist Arthur Kornberg, who would go on to win a Nobel in Medicine in 1959 for his research into the structure of DNA, took a popular summer course that van Niel taught undergraduates for 30 years. Later, Kornberg credited the class for stimulating his interest in microbiology.
  • 1937 Physicists and brothers Russell Varian ’25, MA ’27 and Sigurd Varian arrive on campus. Working with William W. Hansen ’29, PhD ’33, the scientists develop the klystron tube, which generates high-frequency short-wave-length signals. This discovery paves the way for the airborne radar that will crush Hitler’s Luftwaffe during World War II. The klystron facilitates the development of commercial air navigation, satellite communication, and high-energy particle accelerators. 
  • 1946 Novelist Wallace Stegner establishes the Stanford Writing Program. Alumni now include Edward Abbey, Raymond Carver, Harriet Doerr, Robert Haas, Ken Kesey, Philip Levine, Tillie Olsen, ZZ Packer, and Scott Turow.
  • 1948 The schools of Biological Sciences, Humanities, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences merge to form the School of Humanities and Sciences.
  • 1951 Chemist Carl Djerassi synthesizes progestin norethindrone, a hormone that leads to the development of the first oral contraceptive pill for women. Djerassi also develops non-insecticidal pest control by using modified growth hormones to prevent insects from maturing from larvae to the pupal and adult stages. 
  • 1952 Physics Professor Felix Bloch becomes Stanford’s first Nobel laureate.
  • 1957 George Forsythe joins the Department of Mathematics as Stanford’s first faculty member specializing in computing. In 1961, he forms a computer science division, which in 1965 is spun off as a separate department, one of the first in the nation.
  • 1958 Stanford in Germany, the university’s first overseas campus, opens on an estate near Stuttgart. In a harbinger of coed living, 33 men and 30 women, chosen from 197 applicants, eat meals together but live in separate buildings. Friedrich “Willi” Strothmann and Robert Walker, professors respectively of German and political science, conceived the program.
  • 1964 Martin Luther King, Jr., calls for support during a speech at Memorial Auditorium: “In the Mississippi power structure, justice has no meaning.… Civil rights issues cannot be resolved from within the state; help must come from the outside.” He speaks on campus again in 1967, a year before he is assassinated.
  • 1966 Philosophy Professor Patrick Suppes and psychology Professor Richard Atkinson of Stanford’s Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences introduce the concept of computer-aided instruction. Children at Brentwood Elementary School in East Palo are among the first in the nation to do interactive math and reading lessons using a computer. Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes is a descendant of those early experiments. 
  • 1969 String theory, an attempt to provide a complete mathematical description of the fundamental structure of the universe, is proposed by Stanford theoretical physicist Leonard Susskind, and Yoichiro Nambu of the University of Chicago. They state that while humans observe three dimensions of space and one of time, string theory posits 10 dimensions of space and one of time. The extra dimensions are balled up, or compactified, into dimensions too small to detect but whose structures are important to the laws of physics. 
  • 1969 Faculty in sociology, biology, psychology, and medicine join forces to create the Program in Human Biology, which has been one of Stanford’s most popular majors.
  • African and Afro-American Studies is launched as the first interdisciplinary major of its kind at a major private U.S. university.
  • 1971 Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo conducts the “Prison Experiment,” with students playing the roles of prisoners and guards in a makeshift jail on campus. After five days the experiment is suspended for being too harshly realistic.
  • 1973 Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains is established.
  • 1974 The Center for Research on Women (CROW) is founded. In 1986, it changes its name to the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Today, the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research is regarded as one of the nation’s most distinguished centers in its field.
  • 1975 Music Professor John Chowning cofounds the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). In 1967, Chowning discovered an algorithm to produce realistic music using digital synthesizers. In 1973, Stanford licensed the Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis patent to Yamaha. The university earned $23 million in royalties by the time the patent expired in 1994.
  • 1977  Geology Professor Tjeerd van Andel and two colleagues discover underwater hot springs along the Galápagos Rift at the bottom of the Pacific. They find that the 10,000-foot-deep vents support a community of tube worms, giant clams, and other previously unknown species.
  • 1978 Physics graduate student Sally Ride becomes one of the first women named to NASA’s astronaut corps. Ride applied after reading an ad in the Stanford Daily. In 1983, she becomes America’s first woman in space. 
  • 1980s  H. John Shaw, professor of applied physics, and Michel Digonnet, a senior research engineer in applied physics, develop the fiber optic amplifiers used in telephone and digital communications. As signals pass through the fiber, they get weaker—the amplifier enables them to go much farther. The invention enabled the bandwidth explosion in optical communications and telecommunications essential to the internet. Shaw, who was Stanford’s most prolific inventor, also invented the fiber-optic gyroscope used in navigation systems. During his four decades on campus, Shaw was awarded about 100 U.S. patents, mostly in the field of photonics. He died in 2006.
  • 1987 Trustees launch a five-year, $1.1 billion Centennial Campaign, the largest fundraising effort ever in higher education. The campaign raises funds for 39 endowed professorships in H&S.
  • 1990 The Human Genome Project is established by Stanford researchers from the biological sciences, computer science and the School of Medicine, collaborating in an international effort to decipher the genetic code of humans.
  • 1991 The university observes its 100th anniversary with four days of festivities, culminating in a ceremony that re-creates opening day in 1891.
  • 1996 Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, a new interdisciplinary program, is launched.
  • 1997 Christopher Burge, PhD ’97, computational biology, and math Professor Samuel Karlin develop a statistical model to assist in the sequencing of DNA. The software program, GenScan, has been licensed to more than 100 companies for gene sequence prediction.
  • 1998 Stanford’s seven Nobel physicists gather on October 13 to celebrate the life and work of Professor Emeritus Arthur Schawlow. That morning, Robert Laughlin learned that he had won the Nobel Prize in Physics, the fourth in four years for Stanford physicists.
  • 2001 The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s $400 million gift to Stanford is the largest in the university’s history. Three-quarters of the gift is allocated to H&S and $100 million goes to the Campaign for Undergraduate Education.
  • 2003 The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., selects the Department of Psychology to kick off its Great Schools seminar series, featuring the research of top institutes worldwide. In 1964, the American Council on Education named the department number one in the nation, a ranking sustained today.
  • 2004 Marine Biology Professor William Gilly leads a group of researchers on a boat expedition retracing the 1940 voyage of John Steinbeck and Ed “Doc” Ricketts to study environmental changes in the Sea of Cortez.
  • 2006 President John Hennessy launches The Stanford Challenge campaign to raise $4.3 billion, the largest amount in the university’s history.
  • 2007  The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to former Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations network of 2,000 scientists that included Stanford faculty. They were recognized “for efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.” H&S professors Stephen Schneider, Thomas Heller, and Chris Field, and senior fellow Terry Root were key authors of several IPCC reports.
  • 2008 Leslie Hume, MA ’71, PhD ’79, is elected president of the Board of Trustees, the first woman to hold the post since Jane Stanford.
  • 2009 The Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound, one of the largest sound archives in the United States, celebrates its 50th anniversary.
  • 2013 Bing Concert Hall opens as the university’s new main stage for the performing arts. The elegant venue anchors a new arts district that reflects Stanford’s commitment to a well-rounded liberal arts education.
  • 2014 Stanford Global Studies is launched as part of a school-wide effort to expand opportunities for students to learn about the world through new courses and international internships that will prepare them to be global citizens of the 21st century. 
  • Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor of mathematics, is awarded the 2014 Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics. Mirzakhani is the first woman to win the prize, widely regarded as the Nobel Prize of mathematics, since it was established in 1936.
  • The Anderson Collection at Stanford University, a bespoke building that houses one of the world’s finest collections of post-World War II American art, opens next to the Cantor Arts Center.
  • 2015 The university celebrates the opening of the McMurtry Building, the new home of the Department of Art and Art History next to Cantor in the arts district.
  • Stanford launches an interdisciplinary digital humanities minor, which gives students the opportunity to blend traditional humanistic research with technology tools.
  • English Professor Adam Johnson joins a select group of authors who have won two of the nation’s top literary awards. Fortune Smiles received the 2015 National Book Award and The Orphan Master’s Son won the 2013 Pulitzer.
  • 2016 Bing Nursery School, a research lab for the Department of Psychology, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Bing is the source of many landmark studies including Professor Albert Bandura’s “Bobo doll” experiment, which demonstrated the power of modeling to change behavior. Some of the studies conducted at Bing are among the most cited in the history of psychology.
  • The new Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Biology Research Building breaks ground. Located on Campus Drive between Old Chemistry and the Clark Center, this sleek facility will act connect the core campus with the School of Medicine when it opens in 2018.
  • Roble Gym, built in 1931 as a women’s gym, reopens following a renovation that includes a new dance studio, a black box theater, and a flexible rehearsal and art-making space for all students. Roble houses the Department of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS).
  • Neurologist pioneer Marc Tessier-Lavigne, a professor of biology, is inaugurated as Stanford’s 11th president. 
  • 2017 Old Chemistry, closed since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, reopens as the Sapp Center for Science Teaching and Learning. The restoration of Old Chem, part of Stanford’s original campus, launches a new era in undergraduate chemistry and biology education. The Sapp Center and Bass Biology will serve as anchors for a new science quad that will support undergraduate education and advance interdisciplinary research. 
  • Physicist Persis Drell, dean of the School of Engineering, is named Stanford's 13th provost.