Honoring the Past, Living the Legacy

To honor the legacy of the Department of Plant Pathology, we have launched The Living Legacy Project, a complete digital history of the department including photo, video and written content that tells the story of our department’s history and its impact on modern agriculture.

Honoring the past, living the legacy

When you’re one of the oldest departments of plant pathology in the country, you tend to have a lot of stories to tell.

Plant Pathology Living Legacy J. J. ChristensenEstablished in 1907, the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota is one of the oldest departments of its kind in the United States and has had a long line of decorated faculty, staff, students and alumni who have helped define what plant pathology is in the modern context. Some names and some stories are familiar; others are hidden gems to be discovered. You might know of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and “Father of the Green Revolution” Norman Borlaug, whose high-yielding varieties of wheat helped feed people throughout the world; E.C. Stakman who described physiological races of rust, which led breeding efforts of rust resistant wheat; Clyde and J.J. Christensen, who inspired many students to become the next generation of plant pathologists and scholars; Helen Hart, noted educator and first woman president of the American Phytopathological Society; and Harold Flor who developed the Gene-for-Gene Hypothesis, a central tenet of plant pathology. But these are just a few of the many women and men from our department who have impacted our field of study. Since 1907, the department has trained nearly 1,000 students and has been a career home to many dozens of faculty and even more staff. That’s a lot of stories to tell! In recent years the department has actively sought new and creative ways to secure our history, to make it accessible, and to give a voice to the many who make our department great. Enter the Living Legacy Project.

The Living Legacy Project

The Living Legacy Project was conceived as an online community that provides dynamic and compelling access to the department’s history including discussion of major world events that shaped who we are, period photos, videos and an interactive timeline. We wanted an opportunity for our alumni and friends to contribute memories, photos, video and audio content, and also to help organize and annotate historic photos. We wanted a space to tell both chronological components but also thematic perspectives, exploring topics such as women in plant pathology, international students, the Plant Disease Clinic, our department’s relationship with Tel Aviv University, and the Barberry Eradication Program. We also wanted a clear linkage between what was then and what is now--knowing that, like the science of plant pathology, our department and its impacts continue to evolve and build on the past.

Plant Pathology Living Legacy History HarvestIt’s taken two and half years of planning and input from more than 40 people, but we are proud to have launched the Living Legacy Project website earlier this year! We worked with our college alumni relations team to develop surveys about what content the Living Legacy Project should include. We hosted a table at the annual American Phytopathological Society meeting featuring messy piles of historic departmental photos, and inviting visitors to share their stories. We’ve hosted “History Harvests” on campus with emeriti faculty and friends to help organize, annotate and prioritize historic photos for scanning. And we’ve worked with the University of Minnesota Libraries, our college IT and a dedicated office staff to select an online platform, design content and develop a plan for communications. Special thanks to Emeritus Professor Richard Zeyen and Communications and Relations Coordinator Dylan VanBoxtel for the leadership of and dedication to this effort! Still a work in progress, in 2016 we released four chronological ‘editions’ focusing on the Formation of Plant Pathology (1851-1907), the Beginning Years (1907-1917), the Growth Years (1918-1937), and Years of Trial and Change (1938-1958).

The Future of the Living Legacy Project

As its name implies, this is a “living” project and we will continue to develop and refine content with more chronological editions and thematic perspectives planned for 2017. We will also use the Living Legacy Project to capture and preserve important contemporary news about our department by incorporating video content, research stories, and student, staff, and faculty profiles.

But the key to keeping this project moving forward is participation from our alumni and friends. Whether it is sharing your photos or stories (plpath@umn.edu), helping to identify people in our Flickr photo album, or attending future on-campus events, there are plenty of ways to contribute to the project. Look for upcoming emails from the department as new Living Legacy content is released. We will also announce new opportunities for involvement through email and our monthly eNewsletter. If you’d like to receive Living Legacy Project updates or have questions about the project, please email the Department of Plant Pathology at plpath@umn.edu.