Forward to the Drawing Board

Blackboard by Winslow Homer, 1877

Blackboard by Winslow Homer, 1877

Easily marked upon and easily erased, chalkboards and their slick, white successors have been a focal point in the classroom for generations. Focused on the “right” or “wrong” of the blackboard, many children (and adults) have made the slow, trepidatious walk to the front of the classroom to take  the chalk from their teacher. In schools I attended writing lines or equations on the blackboard was the go-to punishment (à la Bart Simpson).  On the other hand, knocking the chalkboard erasers together, purging them of the accumulated dusty scribbles and scrawls, was the reward. Considering the august persons that rely upon this simple yet limitless slate to achieve the most amazing goals (and accidents), perhaps a new relationship to this slate surface is appropriate. As the preservation of chemist Linus Pauling’s blackboard suggests, the value of the blackboard lies in our ability to lay out a meditation. In his book 100 Hieroglyphs: Think Like an Egyptian, archaeologist Barry Kemp alleges that “there is a general reluctance to see [hieroglyphs] as writing, any more than watching traffic lights change or interpreting facial expressions can be said to constitute reading, even though information is being transmitted”. While the writing on the below blackboards might strike the viewer as mysterious, even meaningless, it is nonetheless the tool of the person standing in front of the board; perhaps it is even yours.

Hans-Peter Dürr & Werner Heisenberg

Physicists Hans-Peter Dürr & Werner Heisenberg

Physician Mary N. Crawford

Physician Mary N. Crawford

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Literary critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Astronaut and aerospace engineer Neil Armstrong

Astronaut and aerospace engineer Neil Armstrong

Walter Lantz

Cartoonist Walter Lantz

Wolfgang Pauli

Theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli

T.S. Eliot

Poet and literary critic T.S. Eliot

Rachel Ivie

Theoretical physicist Rachel Ivie

Melvin Henriksen

Mathematician Melvin Henriksen

Murray Rothbard

Economist and economic historian Murray N. Rothbard

Andrei Linde

Physicist Andrei Linde

Brian Cox & Stephen Hawking

Theoretical physicists Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking

Bob Parr

Theoretical chemist Robert Parr

Astrophysicist Walter Lewin

Astrophysicist Walter Lewin

T. Boone Pickens, Jr.

Business magnate and financier T. Boone Pickens, Jr.

Cosmologist Chung-Pei Ma and physicist Fay Ajzenberg-Selove

Cosmologist Chung-Pei Ma and physicist Fay Ajzenberg-Selove

Noam Chomsky

Linguist and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky

Albert Einstein

Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein

Mathematical physicist Richard C. Tolman and Albert Einstein

Mathematical physicist Richard C. Tolman and Albert Einstein

Paleontologist, glaciologist,  and geologist Louis Agassiz

Paleontologist, glaciologist, and geologist Louis Agassiz

Louis couldn't fit it all on one chalkboard.

Sometimes you just need two chalkboards.

Luis Radford, professor of the theoretical and practical aspects of mathematics

Luis Radford, professor of the theoretical and practical aspects of mathematics

Theoretical physicist Margarete Muehlleitner

Theoretical physicist Margarete Muehlleitner

Former law professor and current President of the United States Barack Obama

Former law professor and current President of the United States Barack Obama

Organic chemist Robert Burns Woodward

Organic chemist Robert Burns Woodward

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson

Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent

Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent

Composer Henry Brant

Composer Henry Brant

Theoretical physicist Lisa Randall

Theoretical physicist Lisa Randall

Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield

Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield

Physicist and inventor Robert H. Goddard

Physicist and inventor Robert H. Goddard

Physicist Leon M. Lederman

Physicist Leon M. Lederman

Integrative medicine physician Andrew Weil

Integrative medicine physician Andrew Weil

Systems theorist, architect, and engineer Buckminster Fuller

Systems theorist, architect, and engineer Buckminster Fuller

Geneticist George Wells Beadle

Geneticist George Wells Beadle

Aeronautical engineer Harry "Harvey" Julian Allen

Aeronautical engineer Harry “Harvey” Julian Allen

Historian Walter LaFeber

Historian Walter LaFeber

Chemist Melvin Calvin

Chemist Melvin Calvin

Aerospace engineer John C. Houbolt

Aerospace engineer John C. Houbolt

Theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer

Theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer

Chemist, biochemist, and peace activist Linus Pauling

Chemist, biochemist, and peace activist Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling II

Linus Pauling. The chalkboard behind Pauling in this photograph has been preserved in the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections.

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