Schoolhouse digs up artifacts

By Josh Albrecht

An extensive collection of audio-visual artifacts has made its way to NIU.

Pete West, director of the College of Education Learning Center, said the collection is a treasure chest of 250 educational tools, some dating back to the early 1800s.

“The artifacts tell the evolution of media in the schools,” West said.

Before making NIU its home, the collection began at the University of Iowa and then made its way to Utah State University where it sat unused for several years. Finally, West was notified of the collection and jumped at the chance to bring it to NIU.

The collection arrived, via Ryder truck, in December and now resides in the basement of the Milan Township District 83 One-Room School on campus.

West said the artifacts, some of which are still in their packaging, will be assessed for their condition and value during the coming months.

The school, which is part of NIU’s Blackwell Museum, is a reconstructed version of a schoolhouse that was built in 1900.

“It’s a feather in the hat of NIU and a place you can visit,” West said. “And it is a reminder of NIU’s history in teacher education.”

The audio-visual artifacts will be added to the collection of educational items that the Gabel Hall Blackwell Museum already features, including books that date back to the 1500s.

“This is one of the most notable collections relating to the teaching profession in the nation,” West said.

The new collection features projectors, movie cameras, still cameras, binoculars, phonographs and tape recorders, most of them dating to the early 1900s. However the oldest piece, a Zoetrope Wheel of Life, dates back to 1828.

Because of the collection’s size, the artifacts will be displayed on a rotating basis at the Blackwell Museum and the one-room schoolhouse, West said.

The collection will be a unique addition to the schoolhouse, which West said is a focal point for the campus.

Several community organizations use the schoolhouse for meetings, and some elementary schools have field trips to experience what it was like to have a class in a one-room schoolhouse.

But West said he wishes more students would view the museum even though some student organizations already have used it.

“It’s for the students,” West said. “It’s a fun place.”