Students explore the history of the UN in a special topics course
A military-style sword, a medal from the famous 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and a recreational pipe that once belonged to a member of the KISS group are just some of the curious artifacts from the UN’s past that have been unearthed. this fall by students taking a special sesquicentennial history course.
History major Jordan Clagg says she was thrilled to take the course. “This course has not been offered in the past and will not be offered again,” she explained.
Co-taught by Russ Crawford, Ph.D., professor of history, and David Strittmatter, Ph.D., assistant professor of history, the history of the UN was funded through a grant obtained from the Dean of College of Arts and Sciences.
The special topics course had a strong practical component to help raise awareness of the UN sesquicentennial, Crawford said. Strittmatter explained that there were “no quizzes or tests, it was all project-based work for the public.”
Whether finding, posting and tweeting about UN artifacts, researching and writing history articles for the Ada Herald or conducting oral history interviews with d Alumni of the United Nations, students learned how to bring history to life for an audience.
The students worked together to create an exhibit of UN artifacts that was on display at the Freed Center for the Performing Arts for most of the fall semester. The grant covered the purchase of museum-quality display cases that were used to display postcards, clothing, yearbooks and other memorabilia previously hidden in the UN archives. The students recently moved the exhibit to its permanent home in the basement of the Hill Building.
The medal the UN received for a mathematical exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago proved to be the most elusive and valuable find of the exposition. “We knew it existed because there were pictures of it in UN catalogs from the early years,” Strittmatter said.
The 1893 World’s Fair was one of the most influential social and cultural events in American history. The Ferris wheel, the first commercial cinema, the brownie dessert, and several famous products, from Juicy Fruit gum to Pabst Blue Ribbon beer to cream of wheat, all debuted at the fair.
Kaylee Rigg, a sophomore in history, thought it “really cool” that the UN, “a little university in the cornfields of Ohio”, and still a young institution of higher learning, won a medal of success at a fair that brought together so many consecutive innovations.
It turns out that the UN medal was hidden in a cardboard box in the archives. He had not been cataloged for fear he could “disappear” if his whereabouts were known, Strittmatter said. And while current students probably don’t value the medal as much as past students, it’s still “pretty amazing,” he added.
Rigg also found it surprising that the UN once deployed a military unit. And, she never realized how competitive engineering students and pharmacy students were in the early days of the UN. She researched and wrote an article published in the Ada Herald about the University’s “burying the hatchet” ceremony intended to assuage animosities between the two majors. “It was interesting and crazy that the rivalry got so intense,” she said.
As part of the course, the students used their Twitter platforms to share interesting information about the UN’s past. Additionally, they conducted oral history interviews with former UN students during the Homecoming which were transcribed and added to the UN archives.
Through their participation in the course, students have acquired concrete skills in research, communication and marketing. They also gained a deeper understanding of American history by exploring how social and cultural norms from different decades impacted campus life.
Reading student textbooks from the early 1970s, for example, Clagg was fascinated by the dress code and curfew rules for female students. Eventually, the changes brought about by the women’s rights movement would reach the campus and the rules would be abolished. “These rules seem so outdated to us now,” Clagg says. “But in reality, the 1970s weren’t that far away.”