Graduate students delve into Briscoe Center’s collections for enriching, hands-on seminar course
Is it possible, in 15 short weeks, for a group of graduate students to gain a deep appreciation of the Briscoe Center’s vast archival collections and to craft from one or more of those collections a tightly-focused scholarly essay?
Posted: April 23, 2010
Prof. Jacqueline Jones
And also to survey the broad sweep of American history through the works of some of its most accomplished practitioners? Last semester, University of Texas History Prof. Jacqueline Jones met with 11 graduate students that accepted this challenge, convening every Wednesday afternoon in the center’s conference room for a research seminar devoted to the "The Art of the Historical Essay."
This course was designed to make maximum use of the center’s impressive resources in terms of the expertise of its staff as well as the wide range of its archives. At the beginning of each class meeting, a series of center staff members introduced the students to specific collections and/or general categories of holdings, including the Sound and Music archives; Energy and Natural Resources archives with a focus on the ExxonMobil Collection; recent photojournalism acquisitions; Civil Rights collections; News Media History collections with a focus on the Walter Cronkite papers; Sanborn maps, broadsides and Ephemera; the Natchez Trace collection; and Congressional History papers.
The assigned readings, composed of historical essays, were culled from a larger list of articles recommended by U.S. historians at UT. Faculty were asked to suggest their favorite articles—ones they found exceptionally well written and well researched, essays that were methodologically innovative, provocative, or ground-breaking, or some combination of all these. The semester began with essays by Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick Jackson Turner, Salmon Rushdie, Perry Miller, Natalie Zemon Davis, Kenneth Stampp, and Alejandro Lugo. Thereafter the class read, on average, three essays a week, covering the span of American history from earliest colonial settlements to the present—from the history of New Amsterdam to the history of Oprah Winfrey’s media empire.