Students in the Texas A&M University-Commerce Department of History have spent the past semester learning just what it takes to work in the field of public history after the completion of their “ETSTC in WWII” exhibit at the Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas.
The exhibit, which features more than 40 items from Special Collections in the Velma K. Waters Library, examines the role of A&M-Commerce (then named East Texas State Teachers College) during the Second World War and how it affected students, employees and the community as a whole.
The project was part of the Introduction to Public History course taught by Assistant Professor Mylynka Kilgore Cardona, Ph.D. This class is open to both undergraduate and graduate students and is required to earn the university's Public History Graduate Certificate.
Cardona explained that public history can be summed up as history outside of the classroom.
“Museums, parks, publications–these can all be described as a form of public history,” Cardona said. “Some students have an interest in history but do not wish to teach. There are so many more things you can do with a degree in history outside of teaching.”
This project spanned the length of the semester, and tasked the class of 23 students with researching, curating and acquiring items for the exhibit.
Based on the subjects of military training, rationing, war bonds, education at ETSTC and letters home, Cardona stated that the Special Collections and archives at A&M-Commerce's Waters Library provided plenty of information for students to discover.
“Students found many materials for their exhibit, such as wartime posters urging people to ration, buy bonds and such, as well as many letters written to and from students, faculty and staff who went off to war,” Cardona said. “They even found records of the educational changes made by the institution, so that students could complete their schooling quicker in order to join the war effort.”
Cardona said that she believed the discoveries were an eye-opening experience for some students.
“I especially think that the letters and things of that nature really struck a chord with students, as it made the experiences feel more real to them,” Cardona said.
After gathering materials, students created plans for the exhibition of the items. The American Cotton Museum lent space for the exhibit, and students got to work making everything fit just right.
Their efforts came to fruition as the exhibit officially opened in the museum on December 1. An opening reception held on December 14 at the museum had nearly 90 people in attendance.
Cardona believes that the project was beneficial in allowing students to find their passion for history.
“Some students really came away from this project with a love for archival research,” Cardona said. “It was great for them to experience all the effort that goes into museum exhibit curation from the inside.”
The “ETSTC in WWII” exhibit will be on display at the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum through January 14. The museum is located at 600 Interstate 30 East in Greenville, Texas. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Learn more about the museum and see admission rates at their website.