Over winter break, a new historical exhibit was installed in the first-floor vestibule of Lang Hall, displaying famous figures who have spoken or performed at UNI. Such notable people include Martin Luther King Jr., William Jennings Bryan, the Dalai Lama and Salvador Dali.
The idea for the exhibit started in 2015 when digital communications professor Christopher Martin gave tours to prospective students and noticed there was nothing to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to UNI in 1959. Martin then approached associate professor of history Thomas Conners and researched a list of notable people who have spoken or performed at UNI using Rod Library’s special collections and the UNI index.
Lang Hall, the oldest surviving classroom building on campus built in 1900, was chosen to house the display because of its history and the numerous famous figures that have spoken in the auditorium.
“When you walk in (Lang Hall) and you’re in that little atrium where the memorial is, to see how many people have spoken and stood on the spot, how many people’s voices echoed in the auditorium, it gives you a sense of you’re coming into a place that has a past, that has a great history, and that you are now part of that,” Conners said. “Who are you going to hear when you are here? Who are you going to get to see?”
The exhibit in Lang took many resources, hard work and research to complete.
“Chris Martin really brought this project together in getting the administration on board and helped get money to create this and to keep pushing it because it took a long time to get this together,” Conners said. “I think it really enhances our campus and I give him credit for starting what I hope is the beginning of a project that will help all around campus and to celebrate the events that took place.”
The exhibit features two timelines on the interior walls of the vestibule, featuring famous figures who have visited UNI, and aims to feature UNI’s nearly 150-year historic legacy.
“It’s a wonderful place to stop and learn about UNI’s history,” Martin said.
Connors also believes the installation sparks good conversation about the history of UNI.
“We’ve got a lot of history, and there is a lot of heritage here,” he said. “I teach history, so it’s kind of fun to say, ‘Well, William Jennings Bryan gave that same speech in Lang Auditorium,’ or to tell (students) when we’re talking about Eleanor Roosevelt that she spent the night in the President’s house.”
Conners encourages current students to take advantage of the speakers and opportunities offered through the university.
“The easiest time you get to see these people is when you’re an undergrad,” Conners said. “It’s kind of amazing when you think about how we have been in the center of everything. These people, we are walking in their footsteps. You get to see people you’ll be telling your grandkids about. To interact with them, or sometimes even meet them.”