Blackboard Sketching and Elementary Swedish Exercises: Bizarre Classes That Northern Used to Offer

In anticipation of the rapidly approaching registration for the winter semester, here are a few strange courses offered by Northern in the past that have been gleaned from old university bulletins:

Northern Michigan University was founded as a ‘Normal School’, a school specifically for training teachers. Because of this, most early classes at Northern focused on education, and some of these education classes were rather bizarre. Blackboard Sketching was a class offered by Northern from 1900 into the 1940s. It was designed to train teachers of many subjects and levels how to “draw rapidly upon the board in light and shade”. At times, Advanced Blackboard Sketching was also offered. In addition to regular courses, all students were expected to attend a daily assembly which included choral practice. Gradually, both the curriculum and the expectations on the students loosened.

Most of the Physical Education classes centered around Educational Gymnastics classes which included such topics as “Elementary Swedish Exercises”, “Marching and Apparatus Work” (which was described as “training to inspire courage” among pupils), and “Fancy Steps”. It is not clear exactly what Elementary Swedish Exercises or Fancy Steps might have entailed as further description was not given. Classes in School Games and Playground Work were also offered for many years. A class entitled Stories, Games, and Songs was offered in which those “especially suitable for children will be taken up”. Courses were also offered in how to read things aloud, in which “attention [was] given to physical and vocal culture, correct breathing, pronunciation, emphasis, gesture, etc”. Penmanship was a required course from 1914 to 1960, and included proper writing on both blackboards and paper.

By the 1940s, a variety of unusual courses were being offered, including Interpretive Dancing for Women Physical Education Majors and Bookbinding, which was offered as an art class. On a more disturbing note, Northern began offering a class in “Heredity and Eugenics” in the 1920s. The class description stated that “the latter portion of the course treats of the possible application of genetic principles in the improvement of the human race, and aims to give the student a critical understanding of the modern movement for eugenics reform”. This course was discontinued in 1952.

Just as the kinds of classes offered by Northern have been altered over the years, the process of registering for classes has also changed. Registration used to take place in the 1960s and 1970s in the “Bullpen”, located in what then was the Hedgcock Fieldhouse. Students waited in lines to register for each of their classes. It was said to be a scene of much frustration and chaos as many classes would close while students were still waiting in line. In 1983, the era of the Bullpen came to a close as computerized registration was implemented. Many faculty, staff and alumni still fondly reminisce about the chaos found every year in The Bullpen.

bullpen registrationPrepared by Annika Peterson and Jaime Ganzel

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One thought on “Blackboard Sketching and Elementary Swedish Exercises: Bizarre Classes That Northern Used to Offer

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