Opinion | UI should teach University history


The Daily Illini Photo File

The Morrow Plots, located on Goodwin Avenue, is one of many locations on campus with historical significance. Senior columnist Noah Nelson argues that the University should put more effort in educating more about the school’s rich history.

By Noah Nelson, Senior Columnist

There’s no doubt the University is one of the best locations for higher education in the nation, possibly the world. As a cultural oasis located smack dab in the middle of Illinois, it’s an institution like no other.

With a wide variety of fields to study, a slew of registered student organizations to join and a breathtaking campus, what’s not to love about the University? While it may seem like it’s the best place in the world (it is), it didn’t achieve overnight success like a one-hit-wonder artist.

It has a rich history that many folks, especially students, don’t know much about. The various history courses offered on campus are great — I should know; I’ve taken five of them. However, there’s not one that teaches University history. That needs to change.

Last school year during the pandemic’s peak, a buddy and I decided to spend each Saturday morning taking a walk around campus. Since most student activities were unavailable anyway, we decided why not. We took a trip to the Union for coffee and then began exploring campus. But something hit me.

Located around many buildings on campus are large metal signs with short write ups about topics related to University history and alumni. Examples include the history of the Morrow Plots, the initial days of early child development at the University and the creation of the first web browser.

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I was amazed. I knew the University had a wonderful history, but I didn’t know all of this information. I wanted to learn more by any means possible.

Courtesy of the University Library system, there is a whole page dedicated to University history. It’s divided into eras of various presidents and historical timeframes. It also explores campus maps, various clubs and organizations and events that occurred on campus over the years.

In March 1867, the University was founded as part of the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act. This provided the creation of 37 public colleges and universities across the growing United States. A year later, in March 1868, the school — then known as Illinois Industrial University — opened its doors to around 50 students. It hasn’t looked back since. But I needed to know more.

Throughout the years, the University has battled countless obstacles including world wars, the Great Depression, the Chief Illiniwek controversy, administrative scandals and so much more. But it’s also achieved with campus expansion, unbelievable varsity sports and recruiting well-known players, increasing student enrollment and alumni and becoming a global university. Talk about a rich history.

My research led me to discovering more about the various alumni too. Sure, most everyone knows companies like YouTube, PayPal, the NFL, inventions like sound on film, the LED light and the first web browser were all created courtesy of University alumni. But I also learned many other companies and inventions came from alumni too, including Disney Channel, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Weather Channel, Sudoku, ebooks, the Heath candy bar, whipped cream in a can, the first grain silo, the Operation board game, the Chia Pet and so much more.

But the University is more than just successful alumni and an expansive campus. Through countless hours of research in books and deep in the bowels of the internet, I discovered countless interesting facts. A few include that orange and blue weren’t the first school colors; combinations like red and gold and maroon and white were thought of as well.

Also, the day the University updated its name was the same day the French brought over pieces of the Statue of Liberty to be built near the New York Harbor.

I may be partial to my school, but I know I’m not the only one. Learning about its rich history has deepened my love for the University even more so. That’s why it should be taught on campus.

All of this information and so much more related to it should be offered as a choice for students to take. It will broaden their horizons and hopefully create a sense of passion and love for the school as it has for me.

Who knows when such a class will be taught on campus. It won’t be during my time here. But it should happen eventually, not only for future students to learn of the University’s past but to secure the past itself, so that it will never be forgotten by anyone who proudly wears their orange and blue with pride.

I’m proud of the University and its rich history. It makes me forever grateful I will always be an Illini.


Noah is a senior in Media.

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