With the spring semester wrapping up, I’d like to salute the center’s staff, who have handled an unprecedented amount of requests this year—from researchers in the reading room to faculty looking to bring their classes to tour our exhibits. I’d also like to congratulate all those graduating from UT Austin, especially the many who have worked as student interns at the center or used the collections in their studies.
The documents, photographs, and other materials housed at the Briscoe Center place history in the hands of our students. They inspire, challenge, and clarify our views of the past and compel us to explore further. Indeed, many UT students go beyond simply viewing the center’s collections as part of their studies—they use them in their own projects as well. This semester, Dr. Elon Lang’s Liberal Arts Honors class, Treasure Hunt in Campus Archives, focused on archival material related to social justice across campus. In a group session at the center, staff worked with undergraduates on document analysis techniques and best practices for handling material. Students then returned to the center independently to research collections including the Henry B. Gonzalez Papers, the Students for a Democratic Society Records, and the Lesbian Issues Collection. After making selections, students digitized material from these collections and incorporated it into a new online repository, Tension in the Archives: An Exploration of Hidden Stories.
Likewise, graduate students in Dr. Joan Neuberger’s Public and Digital History seminar spent the semester mining the center’s collections as part of an effort to create an array of digital projects now available to the public. Those projects include documentary repositories, explanatory essays, and K–12 curriculum. Projects related to the center’s collections included Gaila Sims’s “Guards and Pickets,” which used documents from the Natchez Trace Collection to provide a glimpse into the paperwork created to control the movement and relationships of the enslaved, and Tracy Heim’s “Food Migrations: Texas Czech Culinary Traditions,” which used center collections to create a framework for understanding Texas-Czech culture. Empowering students to create historical resources like these websites and repositories is an exciting development in the center’s teaching mission.
In addition to helping students on the UT Austin campus, the Briscoe Center serves those from other communities as well. In late April, a group of students from Wiley College toured the center’s exhibit spaces before visiting the LBJ Library and the Texas State Capitol. Based in Marshall, Wiley College is the oldest historically black university in Texas. Center staff were able to select documents from the Cargill-Hope Family Papers and other collections related to the Marshall area in order to connect the students to the history of their college community through archival material. Many students were particularly moved by the center’s Struggle for Justice exhibit. Stuggle for Justice remains open until mid-July, and I’m so pleased with the reception it has garnered that I’ve decided to commission an exhibit catalog.
Another way the center helps students off campus is through the William and Madeline Welder Smith Travel Awards. These awards furnish monetary assistance to masters, doctoral, and postdoctoral students who reside outside of Austin and need to conduct intensive, in-depth research in the center’s collections. This year’s awardees each received $1,000 to help cover travel costs to the center. Four are historians. Two are traveling from overseas. Areas of interest include educational policy studies and the First Amendment, Mexican American attitudes toward immigration, and the impact of television on the civil rights movement. Next May we’ll announce more awards. The deadline to apply is March 15, 2019. For more information, visit: www.briscoecenter.org/research/smith_travel.php.
On behalf of everyone at the center, and to all those students, both on and off campus: Have a great summer, and we look forward to empowering your studies again in the fall!
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History