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Students help preserve campus history at ACU Museum


An ACU student in the Historical Methods class ensures artifacts are correctly identified at the ACU Museum.

Abilene Christian University has over a century’s worth of history, meaning that the ACU Museum, on the corner of Campus Court and East North 16th Street, has a plethora of artifacts in need of identification, labeling and appropriate display.

In the Historical Methods course this fall, students are taking part in that process by creating a spreadsheet of every artifact in the museum and labeling them for an updated inventory system. Dr. Kelly Elliott, associate professor and chair of the Department of History and Global Studies, has been working with students to ensure every piece of history is kept up to date. During the first day of class in the museum, her students were already connecting their past to the present through artifacts found.

“The first day we were in here, one of these students, Travis, who is in Sub-T [an ACU fraternity], saw old Sub-T artifacts and was like, ‘Wow, what is this? Where does this come from?’” Elliott said. “Another student was like, ‘Oh, that’s my great grandfather.’ It’s really cool because we’re in this community, and then you’re kind of in the history of the community as well, and seeing connections between now and the past.” 

Boxes upon boxes upon boxes in the museum are being confirmed and verified by the students to bring pieces of ACU back to life. Once verified, the students check off the artifacts in a spreadsheet to help organize the museum’s inventory. Alessandra Rosales, junior double major in global studies and history from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is one of the students working to update the museum. 

“It’s been so fun because we find things from so long ago, like 100 years ago, and it’s just fascinating to read through these things and find out the history of ACU while we do it,” Rosales said. “Actually seeing the documents of what ACU was before and how it came to be is just really cool.” 

For the future, Elliott and others hope to host events in the museum to highlight the history of ACU. In addition to these events, legacy students of ACU may be able to find pieces of their family history they never knew existed. Mac Ice, director of special collections and archives in the library, said he plans to help connect students with families from ACU to their past. 

“The sky’s the limit,” Ice said. “If you’ve got your materials described and accessible, then they can be found and discovered. Then you can start introducing and displaying. There’s a lot of work that has to be done to get a handle on a house full of stuff. Hopefully, what this does is lay the groundwork for future display opportunities.”  

Verifying all the contents of the museum is the first step of the project. In the Introduction to Public History course in the spring, Dr. Amanda Biles, assistant professor of history and director of public history, will be bringing students to design new exhibits and interpret artifacts. Once done, the museum will be on display to the public. 

“This is a really crucial tool for our students to be able to get their hands dirty in the museum world,” Biles said. “This kind of experience will make them more competitive for jobs. This is real hands-on museum work that we’re so excited to be able to offer them.”

Previously, the ACU Museum was managed by the Women for ACU, but the museum is now shifting to a modern laboratory and public history museum, with the blessing of the Women for ACU. Oversight of the museum will now be coordinated by a partnership between the Department of History and Global Studies, the ACU Brown Library, and the ACU Alumni Office. The Alumni Office is managing the facility and its use for visitors and as an event space. The Brown Library will handle curation and artifacts, and the Department of History and Global Studies will train students to manage the collections and design new exhibitions, in addition to providing student workers who will operate the museum and give tours during major events. 

“We hope to create new opportunities for usage of the space in the future to showcase our university, give our students a place to run and manage exhibits and for us to have a space that can be used with departments across campus and our community,” said Craig Fisher, associate vice president for alumni and advancement. “This is really a special and unique partnership between History and Global Studies, the library and the alumni and events offices.”

Learn more about the Department of History and Global Studies.

— Connor Mullins

Oct. 17, 2022

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