Understanding The Man, The Myth, The Legacy
March 2, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti
Every May, staff at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum and Republic of Texas Presidential Library tend to notice an uptick in students touring the museum and grounds. According to Rebecca Lewis, museum collections registrar, they are typically seniors deciding to finally visit before graduating in a few weeks’ time.
“The museum staff is always happy to see them. We love to give a quick tour, answer questions and wish graduating students the best of luck, but we really wish that they would have come to see us sooner,” Lewis said.
When SHSU’s Elliott T. Bowers Honors College needed a public persona big enough to compete with their Taylor Swift seminar this semester, Sam Houston’s time (as a seminar subject) had come, and the new course—Sam Houston: The Man, The Myth, The Legacy—was launched.
“We wanted students to have a greater appreciation and understanding of the namesake of our university. If you are going around with his name emblazoned on your T-shirt, you ought to have some idea of who he was,” said Lewis, who teaches the course. “We filled the class, but with a smaller roster than Swift. Still, not bad for a guy who’s been dead for 160 years.”
The Honors College offers several seminars on a variety of topics that change each semester. Many, like the new Sam Houston focused one, are Academic Community Engagement (ACE) courses and also include student research.
The new seminar, in collaboration with the museum and the Department of History, is a way to teach students, not only about Sam Houston as a historical figure, but also introduce them to one of the hidden gems on campus, the Sam Houston Memorial Museum and Republic of Texas Presidential Library.
“I decided to call the seminar, Sam Houston: The Man, The Myth, The Legacy, because some stories about Houston are practically mythological. Some things students may have learned about him are not necessarily true or possibly remembered incorrectly from childhood, so we want to dispel any myths and replace them with facts,” Lewis said.
The museum, along with Houston’s homes, personal artifacts and the archival materials (both at the museum and in the Thomason Room at the Newton Gresham Library) offer a unique opportunity to learn about the life of Texas’ greatest hero.
“Obviously, we at the museum are a bit biased when it comes to Sam Houston. We like him, and we hope that students will appreciate him, and the contributions he made to Texas and the United States, more after taking this class,” Lewis said. “We also want to focus on the ‘Legacy’ part of the course’s title. Sam Houston left a tremendous legacy and had attributes that people today would do well to follow. He was not a perfect person, but he was a survivor and a tireless servant to the people.”
Along with lectures presented by Lewis and history professor Jeffrey Littlejohn, students experience behind-the-scenes access to the museum and historic houses. They practice how to study objects and read historical documents through items in the collection. At the end of the semester, each student will give an interpretive talk on a Sam Houston-related subject of their choice as if they were a museum guide.
“We’re studying a historical figure and his era, so we rely on academic research. We’re also focused on how Houston’s story is being told today, so we’re just as interested in public interpretation. Most of the classes are designed with a lecture and a tour or demonstration,” Lewis said.
As an ACE course, the seminar provides students a chance to give back to the community. After spending the entire semester learning about Sam Houston, and familiarizing themselves with practically every inch of the museum and its grounds, the students will share what they have learned while volunteering at General Sam Houston Day on April 29. The new community event will be a revamped version of the museum’s previous Folk Festival, with a more enhanced emphasis on 19th century history.
“I’m excited that the seminar and General Sam Houston event are occurring at the same time. These students get to help build two new experiences on the SHSU campus—the seminar itself and an educational event for the public. I can’t think of a better way to spread Sam Houston’s legacy,” Lewis said.
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