Things usually quiet down on campus over the summer months as units such as the Briscoe Center prepare for the coming semester. This summer, however, has been different. As many of you know, the University of Texas at Austin is home to four statues that honor individuals who were leaders of the Confederacy, including Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Calls for their removal have been periodic during my thirty-five years at the university. These calls have intensified over the spring and summer.
In June, our new president, Dr. Greg Fenves, created a task force to investigate the matter and to outline the various options for the future of these statues on campus. The panel is due to report its findings and make recommendations by August 10, 2015. Here at the center we remain on hand to do whatever we can to help President Fenves and the task force implement a satisfactory solution. That includes making available our archival collections that speak to the power of monuments, commemoration and imagery.
The center is home to many such collections, including the Whitney Smith Flag Research Center Collection, the StudioEIS Archive, and the papers of Pompeo Coppini, who George Littlefield commissioned in 1919 to sculpt a group of statues as part of a public memorial at the University. Littlefield’s papers are also at the center. Through its collections, the Briscoe Center has helped to inform the current debate and provide context for the statues and their placement.
The issues surrounding the statues clearly show the abiding power that history, memory and historical interpretation have in American culture. Whatever the fate of the statues on campus, I hope it is remembered that they are works of art and historical evidence. They can and should be utilized for the benefit of our students’ education.
I was delighted last May that the center and I were the recipient of the Bernard Rapoport Philanthropy Award in recognition of our work preserving the archives of the Texas Observer, as well as the papers of many figures significant to the political and media history of Texas. We have also recently welcomed three new members to the center’s advisory council: Terry McDonell, David Valdez and Ronnie Volkening. I look forward to working with them as they join other council members as the center’s ambassadors, connecting us with resources and initiatives that enable us to fulfill our mission.
Finally, I’m proud to announce that Winedale’s Wagner dormitory has completed a seven-figure renovation thanks to support from Nancy and Howard Terry of Houston. The dorm has been expanded, updated and made accessible to disabled students. As well as the recently repaired Theater Barn, the dorm is used by students who participate in the university’s annual Shakespeare at Winedale program, now in its forty-fifth year. 2015 also marks the fiftieth anniversary of Ima Hogg’s gift of Winedale to UT Austin.
Winedale exists to enhance the educational experience of students by offering a tangible link to the Texas past through its architecture and furnishings. I’m glad to see that the recently formed Friends of Winedale will support these educational efforts with a fundraising gala on August 22, in Henkel Hall, Round Top. The gala will feature a sit-down dinner, silent auction and a special performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare at Winedale alumni. For more information visit friendsofwinedale.org.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History