Skip to main content

This, then, is the building we in Classics worked in, along with students and faculty from several other departments, in the half-century from 1950 to 2000.  Within this building, there were about a dozen ordinary classrooms that seated twenty to fifty students, one or two seminar rooms containing a single large table, each with room for about a dozen students, and a large auditorium.

The ordinary classrooms were exactly that: ordinary.  Little classics-specific equipment was needed.  Most classrooms consisted of a square or rectangular space twenty to thirty feet on a side, with blackboards covering one or two of the walls and tall windows another.  A desk or table some three by five feet provided a spot for the teacher to deposit books, notes, papers, and any special items needed for the day’s class.  The desk usually had a chair, but most teachers stood, or sat on an edge of the desk, while teaching.  Facing the teacher’s desk were twenty or thirty seats for the students.  By 1963, the original seats, which were bolted to the floor, had for the most part been replaced by moveable seats.  Each seat had one arm that bent around in front of the student and provided a small desk-like surface.  In each room, four or five of the seats were for left-handed students, the rest for right-handers.  Most classrooms had a pull-down screen behind the teacher’s desk and, from about 1970 on, an overhead projector, and a few had a table at the back of the room on which a slide projector could be placed; but until the last years of the twentieth century only a few rooms–those used primarily by archaeologists–had slide projectors permanently in place.

When I arrived in 1963, ashtrays were available in every office and classroom.  North Carolina, or course, was sympathetic to cigarettes, many Americans smoked, and there were no real restrictions on smoking.  There were some rules of etiquette: women teachers could smoke, but they could not smoke and stand at the same time.  I do not recall undergraduates smoking in class, but they may have, and faculty and some of the graduate students certainly did.  In 1969, however, Congress passed a law requiring manufacturers of cigarettes to include on each pack a warning from the Surgeon General, to the effect that cigarette smoking is (and not just may be) hazardous to one’s health [1]. People cut down on smoking, and smoking was gradually restricted on campus, first in classrooms, then in hallways of classroom buildings, and eventually anywhere in any campus building.  Ashtrays followed tobacco into oblivion; by 2000 there were none to be found.

The slides we used were housed here and there.  Most of us had our own collections of sites and objects we had seen or studied, and we kept those in our offices.  In Murphey, a few boxes of slides with collections taken expressly for use in specific courses such as Greek mythology floated from one office to another, depending on who was teaching the course.  But the main collections were in the slide room maintained in the Ackland, and later in the Hanes Art Classroom building, by the Department of Art.  Here were dozens of drawers of slides, some arranged by site (Petra, Pompeii, Rome, and so on), some by type of object (portrait head, cup, jewelry) [2].  Anyone teaching a course that involved images spent a good deal of preparation time in the Ackland or, later, Hanes, selecting and arranging slides.  Once in their carousels, slides were easy to use, but they sometimes jammed the machine, and most graduate students and faculty became adept at rescuing slides and unjamming the projectors.

In many classrooms, a set of pull-down maps was mounted in a projecting frame at the front of the room. The maps depicted specific geographical areas at certain historically significant times–“Gaul in the Time of Caesar,” for example–or they were thematic in content, such as the “Pictorial Map of Mediterranean Mythology and Classical Literature” (Denoyer-Geppert, 1959).  I occasionally found the maps useful.  Some of them were intended in the first instance for history or religious studies courses.

The auditorium, Murphey 111, was similar in content to other classrooms, but far different in scale [3].  It had about 175 permanent seats bolted to the floor and another twenty or so moveable seats crowded into corners at the front and back of the room.  At the front of the room, there was a low stage about two feet high and thirty feet left to right.  On both sides of the stage, but especially on the east side, there were open floor spaces that gradually acquired pieces of more or less seriously compromised furniture: tables with a broken leg, for example, or desk chairs with missing seats, or torn maps.  Anything not wanted elsewhere in Murphey might end its life in this room.  The auditorium was used by the Department of Classics for several large-enrollment courses, included Greek Mythology, Ancient Cities (an introduction to archaeology), and the etymology courses.  Many other departments, among them History and Religious Studies, used the auditorium as well, in part because of its level of equipment (projection booth from about 1962, projectors, and loud speaker system).  Like Murphey in general, the auditorium was a heavily used and important space.

In the beginning, when I was still a graduate student, we neither needed nor had much equipment. For elementary Latin classes and for most of the advanced Latin and Greek courses, the essential thing was blackboard and chalk. The archaeologists needed a bit more: slide projectors, a wide screen, and venetian blinds or other room-darkeners. In the offices, we had typewriters. Electric typewriters were just becoming common around 1960, but they were ubiquitous by 1970. For the production of multiple copies of a text–a quiz, for example–we had two machines. The more primitive one, it seemed to me, was the ditto machine, which was easy to use, although sometimes messy. It produced up to about thirty copies, with the type being an unmistakable purple. More complex, and a good deal more durable, was the mimeograph machine. To make a mimeograph, you typed your text onto a stencil, wrapped the stencil around an ink-filled drum, and cranked a handle. This could produce a hundred copies or more quickly. Both of these were replaced, of course, when photocopy machines, widely called Xerox machines, arrived around 1970. The copy machine remained essential from then until the end of our period and beyond.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Murphey Hall had no air-conditioning.  When I arrived in 1963, there were three or four large fans in the building, but the best of these–an impressively large fan mounted on a wheeled frame so that it could easily be moved from room to room–was claimed by, and the justifiable pride of, the chair of the department for use primarily in his office.  Most rooms, classrooms and offices alike, had no fan and no air-conditioning, so on many days from late April through early October the only way to make a room bearable was to open one or more windows and hope for a breeze.  Even after the university began putting window air-conditioning units in some windows, many rooms remained un-air-conditioned and therefore open-windowed [4].

In the 1950s, our most exotic piece of equipment was an early twentieth-century manual typewriter that had a Greek font and all of the accents and diacritical marks needed for ancient Greek.  It was not assigned to any special place, but for many years it could generally be found in the department library, in one of the graduate student offices, or on the desk of whatever PhD candidate was writing a dissertation on a Greek topic.  In the 1970s it was replaced by an IBM Selectric, which had interchangeable type elements (“typeballs”), one with an English font, another a Greek font [5].  Another aged piece of equipment, used so far as I know only by the chair, was a dictaphone.  In the 1960s and into the 1970s, department documents were typed by the department’s secretary.  When the chair wished to write a letter or report, he either dictated it directly to the secretary, who wrote it down in shorthand and then typed it, or he spoke his text into the dictaphone.  The secretary would listen to the resulting tape and type the document.

Except for the photocopy machines, this equipment was largely unchanged from what had been in use in 1900 [6].  The sudden and profound changes wrought by the arrival of large numbers of computers in the last years of the twentieth century were startling in part because they replaced technologies that had been in place for a century or more; this was not a series of incremental shifts, similar to the earlier small improvements in typewriters over time, but a complete and astonishingly rapid revolution [7].

At Chapel Hill, the Department of Classics was one of the first humanities departments to turn to computers for use in research and teaching.  This was largely due to David W. Packard, son of one of the founders of Hewlett-Packard corporation, who joined the department in 1975.  Packard had created the Ibycus system, including both the hardware (a converted Hewlett-Packard computer) and the associated software, and he gave the department an Ibycus computer and trained several faculty members and graduate students in its use.  Jay Bolter, thus trained, continued to develop the software for both research and pedagogical purposes after Packard left in 1979.

Despite this early start, the department had to wait for some time before the university provided its faculty with computers.  Most faculty members bought their own computers, of course.  The secretarial staff was provided with computers by the university, and when those were replaced by newer models, the older computers generally stayed in the department and were reassigned to faculty.  Still, there was no line in the department’s budget for the purchase of computers as late as 1996, when I became chair.  For several years, we gathered electronic equipment wherever we could find it.  There were the old machines of our own staff.  A friend of the department who worked in health affairs alerted us to the fact that her department was about to buy new computers, so that the old ones would become available, and one afternoon a graduate student and I drove over and picked them up.  In 1997, we won a grant from Chancellor Michael Hooker for computer equipment to be used in undergraduate teaching, and with those funds we created a new computer lab in the department.

Our students, meanwhile, quickly turned to computers, beginning in the late 1970s and 1980s.  For a decade or two, this meant desktop machines, and the university quickly developed computer labs, with thirty or forty machines for student use in each lab.  The third floor of Davis library had computers all along the north wall, with a printing station shared by all the machines.  Some students had computers where they lived.  The early computers, with their associated dot-matrix printers, often malfunctioned, and students needed to be reminded of this possibility repeatedly, because a recalcitrant computer might mean a student could not turn a paper in on time.  I found it necessary to set out clear and definite rules about deadlines.

In the 1990s, laptops appeared and promptly became the machine of choice.  Students brought them to class, took notes on them, and checked their email several times an hour.  They also played games on their laptops.  You could stand in the first-floor corridor of Murphey, just outside one of the entrances to the auditorium, look in, and see what the students in the back rows were doing on their laptops while an instructor was lecturing.  Most students were taking notes, but for others solitaire seemed to be a favorite pursuit, and so was email.  But the real development of the digital world, with iPhones, tablets, and so on, was still in the future when the century ended.

As for phones, faculty in the Department of Classics were still using rotary telephones in 1996, just a few years before the iPhone appeared, changing everything. We were finally given a budget that would allow us to switch to touch-tone telephones in 1996, but within ten years most of the faculty, and all of our students, were using mobile phones rather than land lines.

Back Next

[1] For the statute, see here.

[2] By about 2000, the Department of Classics had about 27,000 slides in its collection. The Department of Art had several thousand more that were relevant to classical studies, most notably slides of vase paintings and ancient architecture.

[3] After the renovation of 2001-2002, this room was renumbered Murphey 116.

[4] For some of the consequences of these open windows, see the next chapter, “Flora et Fauna.”

[5] Philip Stadter tells me that Henry Immerwahr had a dual typewriter with a long carriage that went back and forth between English and Greek.

[6] The mimeograph was invented in the last years of the nineteenth century, the ditto machine in 1923. Before the advent of copy machines, teachers used inexpensive printed texts when they needed multiple copies of a Greek or Latin author. When I arrived in Chapel Hill in 1963, little piles of these texts–paper-covered copies of Homer, Caesar, Cicero, and others–were still to be found here and there in the graduate offices and public rooms.

[7] It will be noticed that a department such as Classics did not require much in the way of funds for equipment. One of the reasons the cost of a college education increased so rapidly between 1970 and 2000 was the introduction of vastly more expensive technology that needed constant and expert (and costly) attention.