Once a semester, UNH University Museum curator Dale Valena plans and installs an exhibit in the University Museum, located on Level One of Dimond Library. This semester, with help from assistant archivist Mylinda Woodward, Valena decided to showcase an exhibit to celebrate the university’s 150th anniversary.
“After all the history exhibits, physical and online, for Celebrate 150 in the fall, we thought it was time for some fun and technology gets old so quickly now,” Valena said. From that notion stemmed the idea to gather technologies from near and distant pasts that were, at one point or another, used by students, faculty and staff at UNH, and name the exhibit “Before We Were ‘Smart’”
Attending college during the digital age can make it difficult to imagine how a university operated before the invention of electric lights, computers, recording equipment and phones. And yet, UNH did just that.
According to the exhibit’s website, when the university first opened its doors in 1866, then called the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts and located in Hanover, it didn’t possess any of these modern luxuries. Telephones and handwritten letters were delivered by horse and buggy or train until the first telephone line was installed in a store across the street from Thompson Hall (T-Hall) in 1894, only two years after the university relocated to Durham.
Though Valena and Woodward borrowed certain items for the exhibit from individuals, such as other library staff members and UNH Computer Science professor Richard Messner, most memorabilia already belonged to the museum.
The exhibit displays artifacts such as a portable Smith Corona typewriter, first patented in 1913, an Edison amberola table top cylinder phonograph, first patented in 1903 and used for listening to music at home, and a wooden candlestick telephone from 1894. Each device is accompanied by a brief description of its purpose and the year it was used at UNH.
Lining the walls of the exhibit hall are black and white photographs of students and staff using these seemingly ancient relics. UNH president from 1944 until 1947, Harold Stoke, is pictured dictating on his ediphone in 1945. Posted on the wall, accompanying an Eastman Kodak panoram camera from 1899, sits three panoramic photos of the UNH freshman class of 1928, one of the UNH student body of 1915-16 and one of the UNH student body of 1922.
Toward the back of the room, Valena and Woodward compiled a “Hands On” station that allows visitors to try the artifacts, such as an old typewriter and calculator, complete with instructions, of course.
In this age of technology, it can be easy to deem these behemoths as obsolete and forget that there was a period of time when everything you needed couldn’t be accessed by a state-of-the-art, handheld device. Still, imagine one day, 50 years from now, students gaping in awe at an iPhone7 and MacBook Pro inside of a glass case.
“As we started pulling things together, it was mind-boggling to think that all the individual tasks of each machine can be done on a smartphone, except for printing directly from the phone, hence the title [of the exhibit],” Valena said.
Check out the exhibit for yourself, open Monday through Friday from 12 to 4 p.m. and Wednesday from 12 to 8 p.m., running now until March 10.