Mechanical Engineering 24, Section 2

Bears in Boats: A History of Women and Men's Rowing at the University of California Berkeley (1 unit, P/NP)

Professor Oliver M. O’Reilly
Monday 12:00-1:00, 3117B Etcheverry Hall, Class number: 28990

Rowing is one of the most celebrated sports in the 152-year history of UC Berkeley. The first crews were formed in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the men's program rose to prominence in the roaring twenties when a crew from Cal representing the USA won the gold medal for men's 8 with coxswains at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Cal crews repeated this feat in 1932 and 1948. Much of this history is documented in Daniel Brown's "The Boys in the Boat." To this day, Cal men's rowing remains one of the premier collegiate rowing programs in the world. Women's rowing rose to prominence in the 1970s and the women's team claimed the NCAA national championship in 2005, 2006, 2016 and 2018.
In this seminar, we will explore the remarkable history of rowing at UC Berkeley.
The materials covered in the seminar will include material from the books "The Boys in the Boat," Arshay Cooper's "A Most Beautiful Thing," David Halberstam's "The Amateurs," Ernest Herberger's "Rowing Rudern: The GDR Textbook on Oarsmanship," and Bill Stowe's "All Together," oral histories from the Bancroft collection, and a wide selection of newspaper articles and videos.

Instructor Bio

Oliver M. O’Reilly is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Dean for Graduate Education in the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society at the University of California at Berkeley.
He received his B.E. in Mechanical Engineering from the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG). Subsequently, he received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University. At Cornell, he studied under Phil Holmes and Frank Moon. After spending two years as a postdoc at the Institut für Mechanik at ETH-Zürich under Jürg Dual, he joined the faculty in Mechanical Engineering at Cal in 1992. During the 2019-2020 Academic Year, he was the Chair of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate.

O’Reilly has coauthored over 100 archival journal articles, written three textbooks, coauthored a monograph, and is a co-inventor on two patents. He has also received multiple teaching awards including U.C. Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999, the Pi-Tau-Sigma Professor of the Year Award in 2003 and the Tau-Beta-Pi Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award in 2013. In the early mornings, O'Reilly can often be found (still learning) how to row a single scull on the Oakland Estuary. He is also the faculty fellow for the Cal Men's rowing team and a supporter of men's and women's rowing at Cal.

Faculty web site:


The seminar is intended for students who are interested in the history of sports and how sports play a significant role in the history of U.C. Berkeley.