Beaumier Center opens technology exhibition

Northern Michigan University junior Kyler Phillips is an assistant for the new exhibition at the Beaumier Upper Peninsula Heritage Center, “From Chalk to Light Boards: Technology at NMU.” (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — State of the art in their heyday, manual typewriters, Macintosh computers and large, cumbersome tape recorders probably aren’t well known to people under a certain age, and those who did use them might not remember them well.

Anyone who wants to recall technology of the past can see vintage equipment up close at the Beaumier Upper Peninsula Heritage Center’s new exhibition, “From Chalk to Light Boards: Technology at NMU.”

The Northern Michigan University exhibition opened Saturday, when dozens of artifacts from the center’s collection as well as campus offices and storage facilities were unveiled to the public.

The purpose of the exhibition is to examine how campus technology is used at NMU today and where it’s headed.

Dan Truckey, Beaumier curator and director, said the Beaumier Center is the repository of all NMU artifacts.

“We have tons of technology that we have in our storage, and so for years we’ve been talking about, ‘We should do an exhibit about technology on campus,'” Truckey said. “Originally, we were looking at scientific equipment, but then we expanded it to look at media, entertainment and various aspects of student life, and computers and audiovisual, and also looking where things are going now.”

That’s why a virtual reality section of the exhibition is set up since there’s a lot of VR interest on campus now, he said.

There have been many technological advances over the years, but some have stood out.

“Obviously, with the computer technology, there’s been massive amounts of change and power, speed, and I always talk about that advancement is about a number of things,” Truckey said. “It’s about ease. It’s about smaller, faster.”

Just a few looks at the items on display will make it obvious how things have evolved — for example, how the old, heavy computer and audio equipment have changed into today’s lighter models.

Part of the exhibition also includes the first computer system delivered to NMU, an MITS Altair 8800b.

When equipment likes this first came on the market, however, it was considered innovative.

“They were the revolution,” Truckey said.

Even student life has evolved from the typical dorm room of decades ago, when the stereo was the centerpiece of residential collegiate entertainment.

“We have some stuff from the dorms of students’ rooms now, how wired they are,” Truckey said. “It’s really amazing.”

The exhibition also presents a bit of NMU history relating to technology.

And it’s all underground.

Truckey said, “A lot of people don’t think about it, that all of the stuff the university’s been able to do is because in the early ’90s they said, ‘You know, we should just run fiber cable everywhere. We have some money. Let’s just do that because we don’t know what’s going to happen with all this technology,’ and that made it possible for the laptop initiative, every room to have data connections.”

Kyler Phillips, an NMU junior, is one of the assistants for the gallery exhibition.

“It’s really interesting to see where everything came from,” Phillips said.

A member of an older generation recalled some of the items in the exhibition.

“I remember some of it that I used in my teaching,” retired teacher Carol Margrif said. “It’s just amazing how far we’ve come. It’s very nostalgic to see some of this.”

One of the artifacts was an old mimeograph machine, which would be familiar to many school kids of yesteryear who took quick sniffs of the freshly printed worksheets.

Other items might not be as recognizable.

For example, a hygrothermograph was used to study weather and climate, and a binocular microscope isn’t part of today’s typical laboratory. A Wimshurst machine was used to separate electrical charges by induction between two counter-rotating disks.

It might be a shame if old equipment like these pieces were sent to the recycling bin or trash heap. Instead, they are part of the Beaumier exhibition.

“That’s the point,” Truckey said. “We want this stuff to live on.”

Beaumier is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The exhibition will run through June 1.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.