The Buffalo Gap Historic Village offers special opportunities for students of history to deepen their knowledge of the history of the West Texas frontier. Instead of just participating in the Village’s events, they get to help put them together, learning what is actually involved in preparing history education for the general public. Activities have ranged from cataloguing artifacts to the mundane mechanics of running a cash register or stockpiling books — all part of the task of successfully maintaining an ongoing enterprise. Nor has participation been limited to history majors. Physics students recently helped restore the telegraph system in the 1905 Village train depot.
BGHV works closely with the School of Business at McMurry University, for its operations provide an ideal real-world laboratory for students participating in the business minor in heritage tourism. Students in the minor spend a semester interning at the Village.
During the summer, graduate level internships earning Master’s degrees in the field of Museum Studies experience hands-on curatorial training at the Village. In 2013, six students immersed themselves in the process of caring for artifacts and building exhibits. They lived on-site in the Village’s guest house, The Parsonage, and worked closely with museum staff on a daily basis. The students chose one of the historic buildings on site to study in-depth: they cleaned, preserved, and cataloged the artifacts into the museum database, PastPerfect. They researched the history of the building as well as a topic related to the structure, then set out to write text panels, design displays, and build an interactive exhibit.
The students finished their projects by hosting an exhibit opening party. Some students requested donations from local grocery stores to cover the cost of food for the opening, while others went on the radio to promote their event. By the end of the summer, the students had gained knowledge and experience to take a piece of material culture and transform it into an interpretive public exhibit. These interns currently study at: McMurry University, Durham University (UK), University of Kansas, Texas State University, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Lipscomb University.
Students have also participated in a number of publishing ventures. St. John’s Episcopal School in Abilene wanted to publish a history of the school on the
occasion of its 50th anniversary. Dr. Robert Pace of the McMurry History Department set the students in his Research and Methods class to writing term papers which, with minimal editing, became individual signed chapters of the book. The result was On Eagles’ Wings
, a handsomely designed and illustrated volume published by the McWhiney History Education Group; and the members of Dr. Pace’s class became published authors.
On Eagle’s Wings was for private distribution. But Abilene Landmarks: An Illustrated Tour was gorgeously public. Pace and his history colleague Dr. Don Frazier supervised a score of McMurry students researching and writing brief descriptions of major historic buildings in Abilene, Texas, the structures all being illustrated in full-page color photographs from the camera of Steve Butman. At McMurry homecoming in the fall after the publication, the students assembled for a massive autograph session for everyone who wanted to buy a copy of the book.