CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Most of the papers had turned yellow and brittle. For years, they’d been hidden away in boxes inside offices in Stewart County. They were mostly old, out-dated legal documents, and since the county couldn’t afford to hire an archivist, they remained forgotten in their boxes.
Then one afternoon, Teresa Prober, a historian and history instructor at Austin Peay State University, volunteered to go through the papers. She was amazed by the historical significance of what she found.
“We found an original land grant from 1783, just sitting in a box,” she said. “We have a document with Sam Houston’s signature on it. In Stewart County.”
Had she not sifted through the boxes, those brittle pages could have likely disappeared forever. It’s a problem facing communities across the country.
“Documents are all over small towns in America, but they don’t have money to hire archivists,” Prober said. “They’re literally sitting in boxes and haven’t seen the light of day in 100 years.”
This summer, Prober is hoping to renew the incoming generation of students’ interest in historic preservation and restoration with a new class, “History 4810: Introduction to Museums and Public History.” The upper-division history class, which will be offered during the campus’ summer II session, will take students to important historic sites around the state to see how experts and volunteers are working to protect them.
“The focus of the course is preservation, restoration and encroaching development on these historic sites, whether it’s a building or a battlefield,” she said.
Students will travel to places such as Fort Donelson, the Shiloh National Military Park, the Carnton Plantation in Franklin and the Sam Davis Home in Rutherford County.
“Now we’re in a push for preservation of these sites,” Prober said. “But if you want that, it costs money and time. It’s a community effort. If we can bring that to light for students, they may be inclined to get involved with public history as interns or volunteers. There are always needs for volunteers.”
Students interested in enrolling in the class need to have taken History 2010 and have a record of academic success. They will be required to write three major papers on the case studies they investigate and take a final exam. The course will be co-taught by Prober and Alan Robison, executive director of the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center.
For more information on the History 4810 course, contact Prober at firstname.lastname@example.org.