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History Class To Travel West For Fourth Year

Feb. 9, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Meredith Mohr

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Assistant professor of history Jeff Crane lectures in front of Delicate Arch in Arches National Monument, Moab, Utah, one of the many stops the class routinely makes during its "Traveling West" trip.

Standing on top of a rock in the middle of Arches National Park, in Moab, Utah, Jeff Crane surveys the students standing in front of him, their eyes taking in the majestic vastness of the space.

He points to his left. “Look 30 miles this way,” he instructs his students. “That’s where history happened.”

Crane, an associate professor in Sam Houston State University’s history department, will lead the “Traveling West” trip this May, for history 4370, a class that takes students out of their history books and into the history themselves.

The field class is designed to teach students about history by actually being there through what Crane calls “place and process.” This marks the fourth year he has led the trip at SHSU.

“You go to the place and you process it as you are standing in front of it,” Crane said. “Sometimes I tell my students to follow author Edward Abbey’s advice: turn 360 degrees and describe what they see on all sides. Then they have to go back and analyze what they saw and what they didn’t see and why they think that is. What intrigued them? What did they overlook? What popped out first to them? I think it’s a superior way of learning, because you’re out there for a full two weeks.”

The class will take place from May 15-28, before Summer 1 starts on May 31. Students will travel to Santa Fe, N. M.; Chaco National Monument, N. M.; Chimayo, N. M.; Arches National Park, Utah; the Rocky Mountains; Taos Pueblo, N. M.; Leadville, Colo.; Johnson County, Wyo.; Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.; Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield, Mont.; and many others.

In preparation for the trip, students are required to fill out an application and turn in a letter of recommendation, as well as attend a mandatory hike and packing meeting. The required paperwork and a $100 deposit is due in April.

The cost for the trip is $750, which covers food, travel on a bus provided by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, motels, campsites and national park fees. Cost of tuition is separate.

Once their journey west begins, most of the trip will be camping, but every three to four days the group will stay in a motel.

“It’s definitely nothing like the experience of the pioneers going west, but when you’re trying to untie a knot and your fingers are numb and it’s snowing on you and you’re hungry, you start to get a sense of what they must have felt like,” Crane said. “That’s something you can’t really learn in a classroom. My students are seeing things they’ve never seen before, and they have to ask questions. Something always leads to a lecture.”

Over the course of two weeks, students will be required to keep a daily travel journal and complete assigned readings including short stories, essays, poems and books that Crane chooses specifically to enhance the historical experience of the places the class will visit. They will also be expected to participate in class discussions, film screenings on the bus, and cook.

Crane emphasized hands-on field experience as a vital part of truly understanding and connecting with the curriculum of the class, which will look at the history of the American West.

“I will split the class up into groups of three, and they will have a book to read and present to the rest of the class,” Crane said. “One year I had a group read Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and they presented it in the place where he wrote it in his trailer in Arches National Park. Abbey has been called the ‘Thoreau of the West’ and his trailer likened to the log cabin at Walden Pond. I think being there really makes his thoughts come alive for the students.”

For more information, contact Crane at jlcrane@shsu.edu or at 936.294.4443.




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