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This Week in Princeton History for January 25-31

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a dissertation defense occurs 46 years late, Robert Frost gives a poetry reading, and more.

January 25, 1992—75-year-old professor emeritus Milton Babbitt earns his Ph.D. in musicology 46 years after he initially submitted his dissertation for review, having passed a surprise oral exam. Though viewed as impressive, groundbreaking work, his thesis on the mathematics of the 12-tone system was rejected in 1946 because Princeton University’s Department of Music then only offered a Ph.D. in historical musicology, not theory and composition. At that time, the music faculty deemed his work “unreadable” despite praise from his outside reader in the mathematics department, professor John W. Tukey. Colleagues felt he deserved a second opportunity to complete the degree and resubmitted his dissertation for review without his knowledge.

Milton Byron Babbitt’s Princeton University Graduate School scholastic card, Graduate Alumni Records (AC105), Box 50. Note the “degree granted” date in the lower right corner.

January 27, 1983—Princeton University announces plans to establish a department of molecular biology, dedicating $46 million to the new program.

January 28, 1760—The College of New Jersey (Princeton) publishes its first catalog, explaining that “A large and well-sorted Collection of Books on the various Branches of Literature, is the most ornamental and useful Furniture of a College… If [students] have Books always at Hand to consult upon every Subject that may occur to them … it will enable them to investigate TRUTH thro’ her intricate Recesses; and to guard against the Stratagems and Assaults of Error…”

Cover of A Catalogue of Books in the Library of the College of New Jersey, January 29, 1760.

January 31, 1917—Robert Frost gives a reading of his poetry to Princeton University’s Freneau Club.

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

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