If you canvas the state from the El Paso desert to the Nacogdoches
forests, the Perryton ranches to the Starr County colonias, you’ll
know there’s no one Texas. The Texas of lore, depicted on
license plates and postcards, may feature cowboys, tumbleweed and
oil wells, but the real Texas is as diverse as its landscape, as
colorful as a small town flea market.
The deliberate crashing of two locomotives
in Crush, Texas, outside Waco, on Sept. 15, 1896, was
one of the most highly publicized events of the late 19th
Photo: The Texas Collection, Baylor University
Across The University of Texas
at Austin campus, students have the opportunity to meet, explore,
dissect, imagine and create Texas
through a wide variety of courses that capture the breadth of the
state. A quick glance at the fall 2003 course catalog reveals courses
as varied as Germans and Swedes in Texas, Native Plants, Lonestar
Literature and Film and Geological and Mineral Resources of Texas.
A sampling of those courses offers unexpected details about the
state known for its great expanses of land and independent spirit.
- The first Holly of Texas music wasn’t Buddy Holly,
but rather Mary Austin Holley, cousin of Stephen F. Austin, who
wrote a “Brazos
Boat Song” after a trip up the river and in 1804 wrote
an 1800-word treatise on the importance of music in American
is a 100 million-year-old volcano within the city limits of Austin.
explorer Cabeza de Vaca arrived in Texas in 1528 and discovered
small groups of Native Americans. The Apache and Comanche arrived
- J. Frank Dobie, the late folklorist and University of Texas
at Austin instructor, was called “Mr. Texas” by people
inside and outside the state.
- Tejanas, women of Spanish/Mexican
descent delivered in the popular imagination through recent
musical artists such as Selena, have
been living in Texas for 300 years.
- On Sept. 15, 1896, more than
40,000 people flocked to the newly formed town of Crush, Texas,
to watch two locomotives in a staged head-on
crash. The event killed two people and inspired Ragtime composer
Scott Joplin, a Texan, to compose “The Great Crush Collision
Guitarist and songster Mance Lipscomb played
an eclectic repertoire reported to contain 350 pieces spanning
The Texas students encounter in the classroom goes
beyond its trivia and into its heritage and the creation of its
“I look at Texas music as an historical idea,” says
Dr. Kevin Mooney, who teaches both Musics of Texas and Women in
Texas Music. “The
idea of Texas music changes over time, and so we look at Texas
music as a part of history, a changing history.”
Lota May Spell, who was the second woman to receive a Ph.D. from
the university, wrote the first history of music in
the state back in 1936, the academic study of Texas music is relatively
new. Mooney first introduced the course Musics of Texas a year
ago, and the course has been extremely popular. Students learn
that the music of Texas is inseparable from the history of Texas.
“I always begin the course by asking students, ‘What
is Texas music?’” says Mooney. “I expected students
to answer ‘Willie, Waylon and the boys.’ I’m
surprised to discover that many come in recognizing that Texas
music is a
diverse music that reflects the diversity of the state’s
Students study American Indian contributions to Texas
music, as well as musica Tejana, German contributions, and jazz,
and ragtime. In Women in Texas Music, artists such as Janis Joplin
and Lydia Mendoza, who received the National Medal of Arts from
President Clinton in 1999, are explored.
Willie Nelson’s reaction against the
conservatism of Nashville is at the root of progressive
country music and Austin’s lively music scene.
Texas music has left its
indelible mark on American music, from Ornette Coleman, who developed
a style of jazz called free jazz,
to blues legend Mance Lipscomb. And Mooney admits that no study
of Texas music would be complete without looking at Willie Nelson.
“When he performed on the pilot of Austin City Limits in
1974 and sang ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,’ the song
became a national hit and he put Austin on the map,” Mooney
Nelson was an outlaw, rejecting the conservatism of Nashville where
he just didn’t fit in. He brought his own musicians to Austin
and really founded the progressive country music scene that is
so alive today.”
While students only now have the opportunity
to study Texas music on campus, they’ve been able to study
Texas literature for more than 70 years. The course Life and Literature
of the Southwest
has been offered since 1930, when J. Frank Dobie introduced it.
But it didn’t enter the curriculum without a fight.
was himself something of an outlaw, styling himself the “chief
ramrod” in the courses he taught and calling the newly built
Tower, a building he disliked, “the Doric wheat elevator.” Meanwhile,
his name was becoming synonymous with Texas literature as he published
books on vaqueros and gold seekers.
In 1929 he bumped up against
the conservative faculty in the English Department when he wanted
to offer a course in Southwestern literature.
He was told there was no such thing. Dobie’s response has
become legendary: “Well,” he said, “there’s
plenty of life in the Southwest, so I’ll just teach the life.”
J. Frank Dobie was a spokesman of Texas and
the Southwest and initiated the study of Texas literature
at the university.
course, English 342, is still offered today. Whereas Dobie had
to conquer the topic with a scarcity of texts—this
was long before paperbacks—professors teaching the course
today can choose among a large number of excellent Texas writers.
Larry McMurtry, Katherine Anne Porter, Américo Paredes, Cormac
McCarthy and Sandra Cisneros regularly make their way into students’ backpacks.
“I think students are regularly surprised at the quality
and diversity of the literature, more than anything,” says
Dr. Don Graham, one of several professors who regularly offers
sections of English
342. “There is this perception that Texas is this place of
backwards rednecks driving pickup trucks and throwing beer bottles.
Our great writers disprove that.”
Graham says that if most
people had to choose one novel to represent Texas, it would be
McMurtry’s 910-page “Lonesome Dove.”
“McMurtry is the archetypal Texas writer,” he says. “He’s
smart, he’s an intellectual, he’s read everything.
And when he’s at his best he just gets under the skin of
Texas better than anybody else.”
All these years after Dobie
fought for the state’s literature,
the estimable Norton Anthology series is publishing a collection
of Texas literature this fall, “Lone Star Literature: From
the Red River to the Rio Grande.” Graham is its editor.
Américo Paredes, who taught in the Department
of English for nearly 30 years, helped to establish a literary
tradition for Texas-Mexican fiction.
your stance on the current redistricting battle in the Texas Legislature,
it’s clear that the nation is paying attention
to Texas. This has been the case since David Crockett bid farewell
to Tennessee and headed this way. Texas politics have always been
colorful and have often brought people to the edge of their seats.
“The whole redistricting fight illustrates the substantive
role that Texas plays in national government,” says Dr. James
Henson, who teaches in the Department of Government and coordinates
the multimedia Texas Politics project. “Things that people
think of as boring state level politics that go on all the time
really have national consequences, and not just by accident.”
is one of many professors who teaches Government 310L, American
Government, a required course that offers students state-mandated
instruction on Texas government. The course covers the basic political
history of the state, the Texas constitution, the links between
politics in Texas and Mexico, and the main characters in a state
famous for its swaggering politicians.
“Lyndon Johnson looms large in the state’s history,” Henson
says, when asked to name the quintessential Texas politician. “His
story has a very local Texan flare to it, and if you look at LBJ’s
political history, it’s enmeshed in the national politics
of the period. And obviously the Bush family is going to become
one of the dominant political stories in the history
of the state.”
Lyndon Johnson, still considered the quintessential
Texas politician, meets with former Lt. Gov.
Henson is helping pilot the online Texas Politics
project, a multimedia project of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology
it’s fully up and running next fall, the site will provide
information and video footage of everything from political conventions
to voters leaving the polls to former Gov. Anne Richards. This
resource will support students and the public in studying this
key element of life in Texas.
Life in Texas began, however, long
before its politics. In Geology and Mineral Resources of Texas,
students trace Texas history back
through a billion and a half years of Earth evolution.
“Geology is not the study of rocks,” says Dr. Richard
Kyle, who teaches the course. “It’s the study of the
Earth and how it works. I believe that most societies tend to evolve
in an intimate relationship with their physical environment. As
we become a more urban society, I think we’re losing some
of that connection to the physical nature of our habitation. Part
of my reason for teaching this class is to make that available
to students who don’t have a lot of exposure to the physical
Some pieces of Texas’ geologic history are easily
identifiable. For example, the campus’ limestone buildings
bear proof of the state’s oceanic past in the shells embedded
in the stone.
The granite dome of Enchanted Rock is part
of the eroded remnants of a Himalayan-scale mountain range
that dominated this region 1.1 billion years ago.
Photo: Richard Kyle
“We look at the rock record for evidence of what was happening
on this portion of the globe,” says Kyle. “For example,
Austin we have the Hill Country with the limestones that formed
in a warm shallow ocean 100 million
We examine what was different in this region then that allowed
the limestones to form and how later changes created the area as
we think of it today.”
says that only 18,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age,
Texas was markedly different. The coast extended 100 miles
further into the Gulf of Mexico than it does today, and sea level
was 300 feet lower.
Kyle’s course also allows students to
explore why the Permian Basin had the perfect conditions for the
formation of oil, and
how Texas monuments such as Enchanted Rock were formed.
dome of Enchanted Rock is just one of the places in Texas abundant
in Native American legend. In Native Americans in
Texas, taught by Dr. Mariah Wade, students look beyond legend to
the proof of Native American life in the state.
Tejanas played a largely unrecognized, but
significant role in the creation of the state of Texas.
“If you ask people what groups were in Texas, they’ll
probably say Apache or Comanche,” says Wade. “It’s
unlikely that anybody will actually mention to you any group that
in Texas around the time of Cabeza de Vaca, which is the first
baseline we have as far as who was here.”
Early Native American
groups in Texas were small, with populations generally not exceeding
500. And they were abundant. Wade explains
that these groups had good hunting and warrior skills among themselves,
but were not prepared for the sophisticated warring society of
the Apache, which arrived around the mid 1600s.
“They were having problems with other groups up north, including
the Comanche and Ute,” Wade explains. “Also, the establishment
of the Spaniards in the San Antonio area provided resources like
horses and other goods, so trade possibilities drew them as well.”
follow the history of the Native Americans, which intersects with
the history of the state.
“Native Americans are Texas heritage,” says Wade. “It’s
very important to understand them to know what Texas is like.”
El Capitan consists of limestones that formed
as a reef in a shallow tropical sea within the Permian
Basin of west Texas about 260 million years ago.
Photo: Richard Kyle
Writing the Tejana Narrative, students not only learn about the
heritage of Texas, they take part in creating it.
This writing course,
taught by Teresa Palomo Acosta, explores the Tejana, a woman of
Spanish/Mexican descent in Texas, over 300 years
of history and through the stories of the students in the class
“Tejanas were active participants in the history of the
land that became Texas,” Acosta explains.
The course encourages
students to recognize their own place in the history of Texas by
writing their own Tejana narratives, recording
their stories and the stories of their families and others in poetry,
short fiction, memoir and essay. Students are encouraged to make
use of oral history, interviews and other tools of observation.
“I took the class because of the writing element, and also
for personal reasons,” says Rachel Herrera, a Latin American
studies student in the course. “It allows me to write about
my own personal experience as a multi-racial woman.”
take these and other Texas-focused courses for all kinds of reasons:
to fulfill requirements, explore their heritage, better
understand their environment or satisfy a curiosity. And in the
end, these courses give them a better view of the state in which
they live and whose future they will be critical in creating.