Ideas Immortalized: Telling the Story of the University of the Philippines

The University of the Philippines is one institution that needs no introduction. Just mention UP and people express their awe to show how much they look up to this university, the country’s premier university where many of the country’s brightest minds sprang from.

UP’s status and prestige today makes one overlook how far it has come ever since it was established more than a century ago. Then again, not many know the story of the university’s early years, the struggles and the triumphs it encountered during that pioneering period in UP’s history. That was, until the Museum of a History of Ideas opened in UP’s Manila campus last October 22, 2014.

The museum opened on the site of old College of Dentistry Building along Padre Faura Street. The building itself is a heritage structure which dates back to 1931, one of the oldest in the Manila campus. It was actually first used as the university infirmary building until 1947 and was shortly used for a time as emergency headquarters of the administrative offices during World War II before it became the College of Dentistry building. When the college moved to a bigger facility at the corner of Taft Avenue and Pedro Gil in 2002, the building underwent some massive restoration work to be the site of the museum we now see today, the first to deal with the history and heritage of the University of the Philippines.

Originally conceived as a project in celebration of the UP centennial in 2008, the museum aims to tell the early history of UP, stretching back from the arrival of the Americans in the country in 1899 (whether we like or not, the Americans were instrumental in establishing UP in the first place) up to 1929, through words, images, and artifacts that represented the ideas the university thrived on and even spearheaded in a number of instances, not to mention chronicling how the university evolved as a center of thought and knowledge in the country. Thus, the name of this museum being a museum of a history of ideas.

The museum’s interiors give an impression of purity and spaciousness, giving it a minimalist vibe and not much of the clutter one might expect to see in a museum. Nevertheless, there is so much to learn and discover in the museum, especially items and technologies of the era shown in context with the story of UP. It’s unfortunate that the museum’s coverage of UP history stops at 1929 as  there are potentially much more stories waiting to be told visually about the university from the 1930s onward.

a bookshelf displaying academic and scholastic works published in the early 20th century

memorabilia related to Murray Bartlett, the first President of the University of the Philippines

encased in the display is a replica of the sculpture done by Jose Rizal, “Triumph of Science over Death,” a Rizal work very much associated to UP Manila (there is a life-sized replica of this sculpture located in front of the Fernando Calderon Hall of UP Manila where the College of Medicine is located)

A display of some compositions of Nicanor Abelardo, one of the first students of the UP Conservatory (now College) of Music who became one of the first faculty members of the conservatory. Also, he composed the school hymn of UP, “UP Naming Mahal”

a dental chair and cabinet from the early 20th century (the museum was after all the former College of Dentistry)

Another notable feature of the museum building is the presence of two open air courtyards in the middle, providing natural light as well as some green space, not to mention an added sense of tranquility.

One thing to note about the museum though is that it is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you’re in the area during one of those days around UP Manila, the Museum of a History of Ideas is one highly recommended place to visit.

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In relation to this entry, there was news recently of the plans of the Supreme Court to move to its own facility at Bonifacio Global City. Should that materialize, the current Supreme Court complex will revert back to its original owner, which happens to be the University of the Philippines. This gives opportunity not only for a bigger campus for students but also some additional facilities, like perhaps a space to continue the story of the university with a new museum perhaps? (that’s already a hint for the university administrators who might be reading this)

For more information, check out the Facebook page of the Museum of a History of Ideas

Acknowledgements as well to the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs of the University of the Philippines

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