Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Advertise in our classifieds section
Your classified listing could be here!
October 4, 2022

Value liberal arts and human-expressive culture

Avery Thorpe

The UT archives and exhibits contain artifacts that the Library of Congress or the Metropolitan Museum of Art would envy. Noteworthy relics like the first photograph ever taken, a complete Gutenberg Bible and a famous Frida Kalo self-portrait all reside on UT’s campus as free educational tools.

When I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” instead of solely relying on lengthy reading assignments, my professor immersed us into Marquez’s world through a micro-exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center (HRC). Inches away from Marquez’s unpublished short stories, handwritten drafts and personal photographs, I actively interacted with the content.

Smaller classes from all departments should similarly integrate multimedia from the UT archives into their curricula. These facilities present a unique and free opportunity for students to connect primary sources to class assignments. 

Passionate UT docents will readily coordinate with professors to curate artifact selections for 30-person classes or less at the HRC, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, Benson Latin American Collection and the Blanton Museum of Art.

“People learn and interact with the world in different ways. Some mathematical, some verbal, many of us are very visually orientated,” said English professor Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, who organized visits to the HRC and the Blanton for her classes. “So why wouldn’t I harness UT’s resources and (the student’s) learning styles in every possible way?”

Richmond-Garza quickly noticed her students began to independently analyze the selections and form conclusions. Similarly, since our post-graduation lives exclude syllabi and Canvas quizzes, UT should prepare us to problem-solve rather than regurgitate information. 

“Rather than having them read the text and they get media (in class), you flip it. The media is right in front of you (at the archives), and you’re remembering what you read yesterday,” Richmond-Garza said.

Although the UT history, literature and art archives fall under liberal arts, their content intertwines with other colleges. Shana Richards, a social work and Plan II sophomore, visited the Briscoe for an assignment and gained newfound empathy for people usually only portrayed in textbooks.

“It made me put myself in the shoes of the people who lived during that time period,” Richards said. “It’s so important in social work to understand the context of current issues … and gain empathy for new perspectives that you’re not used to seeing.”

Dance majors could read the choreograph journals of Deborah Hay, a significant post-modern dancer, at the HRC. Journalism majors could analyze the largest collection of newspaper microfilms in Texas at the Briscoe. Nursing students could strengthen their empathic communication skills by viewing art at the Blanton.

To accommodate professors’ busy schedules, the UT archives and exhibits contain offices that schedule visits during class time and select and present relevant material. Despite the upfront work involved for professors, a curriculum that accommodates diverse learning styles and inspires intrinsic curiosity decreases confusion among students.

“If you use (a teaching method) that is interdisciplinary, multimedia and that is local or optimizing what’s on your doorstep, I think you get better assignments,” Richmond-Garza said. “As any instructor will tell you, a really strong, successful assignment is quick and easy to grade.”

The various artifacts housed at UT create a unique opportunity for students. Instead of just mindlessly completing a degree, students who visit the UT archives and exhibitions can practice how to wonder, question and connect — regardless of their major.

“It’s literally right here for free. It’s a state university,” Richmond-Garza said. “Take a moment to look at (the archives) and experience them because they’re really exceptional.”

Eades is a Plan II and journalism sophomore from Dallas, Texas.

More to Discover