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Bye Bye Blackboard
June 12, 2008 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Blackboards were wiped after use: they were meant for immediate communication, not for record. Even as they were being used, their messages were continuously revised, erased and renewed. But when Einstein came to Oxford in 1931, he was already an international celebrity. After one of his lectures a blackboard was preserved and has become a kind of relic. It is the most famous object in this Museum.

This exhibition marks the centenary of the Special Theory of Relativity by inviting a number of well-known people in Britain today to chalk on blackboards the same size as Einstein’s. All these guest blackboards have been prepared in the early months of 2005. The result is an exhibition about science, art, celebrity and nostalgia. The blackboard is fast disappearing from meetings, classes and lectures: ‘bye-bye blackboard’.
posted by Fizz (50 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Those are great, but I was hoping that they'd manage to save one of Bart Simpson's blackboards.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:49 AM on June 12, 2008


I went to see this exhibition a couple of years ago. Tony Benn's in particular was inspiring, I thought.
posted by bwerdmuller at 7:49 AM on June 12, 2008


I don't know.

You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to leave your words right up here for all my classes to enjoy, giving you full credit of course, Mr. Spicoli.
posted by three blind mice at 7:52 AM on June 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Hehe, my one Professor always requests that his lectures be held in an older room at our University as he has no like for the marker board, and insists on chalk. Cheers.
posted by Fizz at 7:53 AM on June 12, 2008


I never went to a school big enough but always admired pictures of lecture halls with 3 stories of full-size blackboards with ropes to haul them up and down, sometimes in multiple columns for 9 or 12 total. Kind of like web browser tabs.
posted by stbalbach at 7:57 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good riddance. The chalk dust is probably toxic, the screeching of [anything] on the chalkboard is horrific, and there's no way to capture what's written other than by photograph.

I miss chalkboards like I miss polio.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:57 AM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


What else has disappeared were the dry erase markers that you could inhale to get a little buzzed to make it through a boring class and/or business meeting.
posted by birdherder at 8:00 AM on June 12, 2008


On Flickr: photo of Einstein's blackboard.
posted by Nelson at 8:00 AM on June 12, 2008


Oh, I didn't look close enough at the original link. From there, Museum's own photo of Einstein's blackboard.
posted by Nelson at 8:01 AM on June 12, 2008


I was working for a subcontractor some years back on a high school remodel. The school building was very old. It was painful to watch the workers throwing away the blackboards - big slabs of solid slate being pitched into a rolloff dumpster 3 stories below. Replaced with marker boards - ugh.
posted by azpenguin at 8:07 AM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Another good riddance. I dread to think how many times my head got clonked by blackboard erasers at school. My teachers were a violent lot but to give 'em their fair dues, they had brilliant aim.
posted by pinkbuttonanus at 8:11 AM on June 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


I never went to a school big enough but always admired pictures of lecture halls with 3 stories of full-size blackboards with ropes to haul them up and down, sometimes in multiple columns for 9 or 12 total.

An occassional task I have doing IT support for a university is to go into large lecture theatres to do something to the PC in the lecturn at the front of the room. Some of them still have these enormous rolling blackboards, complete with ropes and, if I'm in luck, some chalk too. Whilst waiting for the Ghost image to copy over the network there is little else to do but write your latest theory all over the board whilst gesticulating to rows of empty seats.
posted by vbfg at 8:17 AM on June 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


WTF?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:17 AM on June 12, 2008


This place is full of them.
posted by rocket88 at 8:24 AM on June 12, 2008


The professors at my school (which is to say, the Math Department) demanded blackboards when our math/science building was refurbished over the course of the past couple years. I approved. Coming to college was the first time I'd had a class with an honest to god blackboard since probably seventh grade.

I hate writing on them, though.
posted by dismas at 8:29 AM on June 12, 2008


The chalk dust is probably toxic, the screeching of [anything] on the chalkboard is horrific, and there's no way to capture what's written other than by photograph.

Whiteboards have the same last problem. And maybe the toxic one. But at least the dust doesn't get everywhere and you don't have to clap the erasers.

OTOH, I find blackboards easier to read. Which is odd, since white on black on a computer is harder. Maybe it's because chalk makes a nice thick line.
posted by DU at 8:30 AM on June 12, 2008


The whiteboard I want
posted by DU at 8:32 AM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I prefer blackboards, if for no other reason than the ability to make lines of various weight.
posted by notsnot at 8:34 AM on June 12, 2008


DU, Excellent link. I would indeed love to have something like that.
posted by Fizz at 8:38 AM on June 12, 2008


DNE
posted by Bugg at 8:38 AM on June 12, 2008


These stacks of blackboards were common at Berkeley, the classic hijinks was to get on a ladder and write something hilarious and inappropriate on the upper level blackboard at the back of the stack, which resulted in the whole class bursting into tears of laughter as the professor pulled the cord to reveal the hidden message halfway through lecture, and was powerless to erase it without the ladder. Ahh, good times.
posted by sophist at 8:39 AM on June 12, 2008


Can anyone check Einstein's math? What was he working on? Does he get the math right?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:40 AM on June 12, 2008


At my school, most of the lecture halls still have chalkboards in them. The largest ones where a lot of my classes are, unfortunately, have the boards that go up and down. Chalkboards tend to be more readable from far away, because of the contrast you can get between the writing and the board. It's also nice, because you never have to worry about chalk going bad and making your lectures impossible to follow.
posted by !Jim at 8:43 AM on June 12, 2008


My schools growing up had green chalkboards and red chalboards. I really wanted the black ones...
posted by subaruwrx at 8:43 AM on June 12, 2008


Oh god. Flashback to 1993 when I taught high school. Went around with permanent white marks on my hips and butt.
posted by Stewriffic at 8:47 AM on June 12, 2008


There are pressure sensitive whiteboards that allow you to capture everything written on them to a computer. Cool technology in conjunction with an overlaid projector.
posted by Mitheral at 8:47 AM on June 12, 2008


I can only be thankful that I finished college around the time they were looking into whiteboards. The most I ever saw was a small whiteboard next to a traditional blackboard.

I wouldn't feel right in a classroom without a blackboard. The atmosphere is just different, somehow more clinical, less like the school days I remember.
posted by splice at 8:51 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are pressure sensitive whiteboards that allow you to capture everything written on them to a computer. Cool technology in conjunction with an overlaid projector.

Cool technology in theory. We have one here that nobody can make work. And these are MIT math and science PhDs!

And really, what percentage of whiteboard scribbles are really something you need to save? My officemate and I use our regular whiteboard to solve math puzzles, visualize geometry (that is then coded into a non-graphical program) and draw pictures.
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on June 12, 2008


There was a golden period of time when blackboards became white and I would ask students:
Why do you call this white board a blackboard?
posted by Postroad at 8:58 AM on June 12, 2008


Cool technology in theory. We have one here that nobody can make work. And these are MIT math and science PhDs!

Well of course math and science phds are great at seeing the theory part of the tech. You need some engineers involved to implement and use!
posted by inigo2 at 9:06 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


MIT math and science PhDs with software engineers to order around.
posted by DU at 9:07 AM on June 12, 2008


Tony Benn is just a brilliant person.
posted by fire&wings at 9:09 AM on June 12, 2008


The chalk dust is probably toxic, the screeching of [anything] on the chalkboard is horrific, and there's no way to capture what's written other than by photograph.

I thought the idea was to, you know, copy it down, into the notes you're taking.

I like blackboards.
I actually much preferred blackboards to the endless handouts of photocopies (without holes punched in them) that nobody ever read and which ended up falling out of your binder.
For the most part I remember blackboards being used to illustrate a point but even when a teacher had you copy huge passages off the board there was some benefit in that...the simple act of transcribing forced a bit to seep into your head. And there was something more tangible or real about copying something as the teacher was writing it on the board, instead of them putting a pre-maid transparency on an overhead projector or showing some shitty powerpoint thing. It had a bit more meaning when it was happening in front of you, if that makes any sense.
posted by chococat at 9:46 AM on June 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


i love the aesthetic of the black board. i'd like to see some whiteboards from contemporary innovators. steve jobs maybe?
posted by mikearauz at 9:56 AM on June 12, 2008


Contributors: Brian Eno "Arabic Singing Diaspora" (I love blackboards and I am totally not a fan of ppt!). Great post!
posted by bluesky43 at 10:00 AM on June 12, 2008


Oh, sweet, Brian Eno's Arabic Singing Diaspora! I would have loved to hear that lecture.
posted by Liosliath at 10:01 AM on June 12, 2008


I always loved blackboards, mainly because early on, I discovered the exact angle to hold the chalk at to make it write properly, and the other one that made is shriek like a branded harpy. Whenever I was feeling unruly I could send the my classmates into a writhing orgy of discomfort as I worked out that tricky problem using a lot of looong slooow skreeeeches.
posted by quin at 10:25 AM on June 12, 2008


cool papa bell:

In the first three lines on the blackboard, Einstein derives an expression for D, the coefficient of expansion of the universe, in terms of rho, the density of matter in the universe. The last four lines give numerical values for the expansion D, the density rho, the radius P, and the age t of the universe. LJ denotes Licht-Jahr, or light-year, and J denotes Jahr, or year. A value for the age of the universe of 10 (or 100) billion years compares with the modern-day estimate of around 15 billion years.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 10:26 AM on June 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


oops, link should've gone here.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 10:27 AM on June 12, 2008


Whiteboards are annoying because there is never a marker of readable color which actually produces a line. Who the heck buys the orange markers and leaves fifteen of them on the tray? The only useful colors are blue, black, and red, and there are never any of this color in the supply room--only green and yellow(?!), both unreadable.

Where does the orange come from?

I definitely wish I had blackboards.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2008


Ugh. Marker boards. Horrible. Unless the markers are brand new they either don't leave a good mark or don't erase cleanly. And they definitely leave dust, it just collects more slowly.

Black on white forever, even on computers.
posted by zsazsa at 10:36 AM on June 12, 2008


... early on, I discovered the exact angle to hold the chalk at to make it write properly, and the other one that made is shriek like a branded harpy.

You can also make the chalk stop shrieking by snapping it in half. The stick then vibrates at a higher pitch which we can't hear.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:37 AM on June 12, 2008


Here are some gorgeous half-erased blackboards photographed with a large-format camera.

Off-topic, but her computer portraits and google image composites are great as well.
posted by umbú at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's too bad she didn't scan larger images. The actual prints (18"x24"?) have an amazing depth to them.
posted by umbú at 12:31 PM on June 12, 2008


Brian Eno blows all of my profs away in the category of blackboard map drawing.
posted by Dr. Zira at 12:56 PM on June 12, 2008


When they installed whiteboards at my high school they screwed them onto the wall directly on top of the blackboards. One lunch hour we were in the classroom as the janitor was installing a new whiteboard. My friends and I all signed our names on the chalkboard and wrote messages to the future. It's good to know we are now immortal. Mwahahaha! (drumming fingertips together)
posted by Brodiggitty at 2:59 PM on June 12, 2008


Cool... second time this week I've got to do this... :)
posted by twine42 at 3:19 PM on June 12, 2008


DU writes "Cool technology in theory. We have one here that nobody can make work. And these are MIT math and science PhDs! "

They are kind of a love'm or hate'm kind of thing. But I've managed to get architects and process pipers to make on going use of them. For the instructors who liked them they could post their lecture notes and white boards to our internal file service and students who either missed the lecture or wanted to review could then reference them.

Brodiggitty writes "When they installed whiteboards at my high school they screwed them onto the wall directly on top of the blackboards. "

They did that at my last workplace too. It was so they didn't have to deal with asbestos abatement.
posted by Mitheral at 6:56 PM on June 12, 2008


My daughter's school has "smartboards". Whiteboards that are touch sensative computer screens. State of the art technology and every second grader could use them just fine. Really amazing to watch her run the thing.
posted by pearlybob at 8:19 PM on June 12, 2008


I can't believe this is the only picture I could find of the blackboard in I heart huckabees. I love how it comes off on Dustin Hoffman's jacket.
posted by kpmcguire at 10:13 AM on June 13, 2008


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