This essay explores historical interpretation or categorizations of Hampton Institute as a vocational project in order to reassert liberal arts as an underlying philosophical tenet of the founding and early history of this now venerated historically Black university. Today, Hampton’s educational mission and its museum are understood to be within the liberal arts tradition. This essay argues Hampton’s nineteenth-century founding ethos also situates the university and museum within the spirit of liberal arts education, even where vocational or manual labor components of its early curriculum may have been defining in early twentieth century historical interpretations of the institution’s mission and purpose. Contributions of the Hampton University Museum throughout its history give readers insight into the Hampton tradition of educating hand, heart, and mind and speak to the university’s 150-year engagement with liberal arts.

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