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Exploring the past: APSU graduate student brings history to life through Dunbar Cave tours

By: Ethan Steinquest September 1, 2023

Graduate history student Ifunanya Ejimofor leads a guided tour through Dunbar Cave.
Graduate history student Ifunanya Ejimofor leads a guided tour through Dunbar Cave. 

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Austin Peay State University graduate student Ifunanya Ejimofor has always been fascinated with the past, and this summer, she was able to step back in time thousands of years through an internship as a tour guide for Dunbar Cave State Park.  

Ifunanya led nearly 80 guided tours through the park, interpreting Mississippian Native American artifacts and cave paintings dating back to the 14th century. She also learned how to lead hiking, kayaking and boating tours for groups focused on exploring the cave system.  

“From my childhood back in Nigeria, I’ve always had an interest in anything that has history,” she said. “There’s something about the past, getting to know more about things that have existed long before now and why things happened the way they have. Apart from that, I have a passion for teaching and preserving history, so that’s why I’m here.”  

Ifunanya has previous experience leading cave tours in Nigeria, but the internship took her skills as an interpreter to the next level through a weeklong training program at Chickasaw State Park.  

“[Dunbar Cave is] more broad and advanced, so I really had to come out of my shell to be able to do this,” she said. “It’s very interesting to get to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds. I’m able to get to know them, communicate with them and feel like we’re all one people.”  

Ifunanya primarily focused on the standard Dunbar Cave tour, which highlights how indigenous people have interacted with the park over thousands of years. She also took the opportunity to lead several Spray Hall tours, guiding visitors through an exploration of the cave’s most rugged areas. 

“Ifunanya’s internship at Dunbar Cave has allowed her to present an important part of Clarksville’s story to the general public,” said Dr. Kevin Tanner, chair of Austin Peay’s Department of History and Philosophy. “Her charming smile and witty intellect made her a terrific tour guide … it also gave her an opportunity to be both a student and a teacher.” 

Graduate history student Ifunanya Ejimofor leads a tour group of APSU employees through Dunbar Cave State Park.
Graduate history student Ifunanya Ejimofor leads a tour group of APSU employees through Dunbar Cave State Park.

Dr. Minoa Uffelman, a professor of history at Austin Peay, was among those who learned from Ifunanya while exploring Dunbar Cave. 

“Ifunanya gave us an informative, entertaining tour,” Uffelman said. “She knew the history and had friendly and knowledgeable interactions with our tour group, which consisted of children and adults. I, along with everyone else, thoroughly enjoyed the tour and learned a great deal.” 

Learning more about Dunbar Cave’s history was a standout experience for Ifunanya, and she said sharing those stories with the community was just as enjoyable.  

“Native Americans actually made use of that cave about 10,000 years ago,” she said. “[As tour guides], we talk about things that are found inside, like cave paintings, artifacts like spear points and the marks on the walls.” 

Cate LiaBraaten, Austin Peay assistant professor and public historian, said she hopes to expand on those kinds of internship opportunities to benefit history students like Ifunanya. 

“Local history and community engagement are key to public history,” LiaBraaten said. “I am hopeful that there are [more] potential projects for our students to get involved in the historical work that is already happening in Clarksville and Montgomery County.” 

Through her internship, Ifunanya gained valuable skills that tie directly into her career goals. After graduating, she plans to stay in the U.S. to become either a professor or a historical interpreter.  

“I have an interest in Native American and women’s history,” she said. “For my thesis track, I’m trying to write about the battles women fought for their civil rights, and I want to focus on Black and Native American women fighting for their civil rights in America.” 

Ifunanya previously graduated with a law degree from the National Open University of Nigeria, but said it was a natural progression for her to move to the U.S. and study history.  

“I feel like I didn’t really change paths,” she said. “Law, history, it’s all related – and history was something I really wanted to dig deeper into and advance my studies … I had a professor during my undergrad who mentioned Austin Peay to me, and said he knew someone who went here and that it’s a good school. I did some research and decided to come here.” 

Now in her second year at Austin Peay, Ifunanya said her experience has proven valuable for her personal and professional development.  

“Austin Peay helped me get to a new chapter of my development based on the fact that I’m a history student,” she said. “It transformed me in terms of learning about the environment, and having good advisers as well helped me broaden my knowledge.”