No Ordinary Class Project

A class of archaeology students has been working to get Baylor University the national recognition its long and distinguished history deserves

No Ordinary Class Project

Remember when you built a diorama for your grade school history project? Or in high school when you wrote a paper about a historic event? Well, imagine being a college student who is asked to help place the site of your school’s founding in the National Register of Historic Places. That’s exactly what a Baylor University archaeology research class did in the spring of 2019.

Baylor at Independence has become familiar to incoming freshmen since 2001 when a visit to the site with its iconic stone columns was added to Line Camp orientation. They learn that Independence was the birthplace of Baylor in 1845 and its home until 1886, when a poor economy and declining population prompted change. The men’s campus moved north to merge with Waco University and retained the name Baylor University, while the female department relocated to Belton as Baylor Female College and, in time, became the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

This rich history was on the mind of Carol Macaulay-Jameson, a senior lecturer in anthropology, in 2017 while studying artifacts from Independence at Baylor’s Mayborn Museum. She wondered if the old campuses were on the National Register and was surprised to learn they were not.

“So I thought, ‘Well heck, I’m going to do it,’” she said.

Getting the Go-Ahead

The National Register of Historic Places is the official listing of America’s historic structures, sites and objects worthy of preservation. Since its establishment in 1966, more than 90,000 properties have made the list. The nomination process is stringent enough by itself, but Macaulay’s plan to get Baylor accepted had its own hurdles. She needed permission to create a research course focused solely on the nomination, and she needed to recruit students.

“I had in mind five undergraduate students whom I met through teaching,” Macaulay-Jameson said. “They’re very smart, very motivated and like doing this sort of thing. I sent them emails and said, ‘Hey, would you like to take part in this class? It’s going to be a six-hour class. Can you fit this into your schedule?’ And they all said yes.”

The plan also needed support from Paul Fisher, processing archivist and assistant director of The Texas Collection at Baylor. Fisher, who oversees the University’s properties at Independence and has conducted significant research on the sites, was all in.

“The idea of Baylor students helping to preserve the original site of their school, and the legacy of students and their accomplishments at Baylor being preserved by fellow students 174 years later, is a wonderful picture of students helping students through time,” Fisher said. “It also fit nicely into our mission at The Texas Collection — to collect, preserve and provide access to materials documenting the history, heritage and culture of Texas for the Baylor community and the public. And it also fits neatly into two of the pillars of Illuminate, Baylor’s strategic plan — research and undergraduate education. With all these connections, I was thrilled to have a chance to work on it with Professor Macaulay.”

Students Get to Work

The planning and approvals –– including from Mary Hardin-Baylor, which jointly owns the female campus site with Baylor –– took 18 months to secure. The work done by Macaulay-Jameson’s students officially started on the first day of class in January 2019.

“We began with taking an online course on Baylor’s history at Independence, compiled by The Texas Collection, and read two books on the history of Baylor at Independence. The online course was excellent,” Macaulay-Jameson said.

Next, the students reviewed the nomination process, agreed on the criteria outlined in the National Register’s “how-to” manual, and were assigned physical features to investigate on the two campuses. On Feb. 1 –– by coincidence, the 174th anniversary of Baylor’s founding — Fisher took her class to Independence to measure and photograph those features, and the students spent the remainder of the semester gathering information for the nomination narrative that focuses on social history, education and archaeology.

“Baylor history is so intertwined with Texas history,” Macaulay-Jameson said, noting that the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos — just 15 miles from Independence — while Baylor was chartered by the Republic of Texas, and figures such as Sam Houston lived in and moved through the area. What’s more, she said, “the trustees at Baylor were not just concerned about their University but were instrumental in getting public education started in Texas.”

What They Learned

These facts and more are highlighted in the details gathered and compiled by the students from the archives of The Texas Collection. Bradie Dean, a senior anthropology major with a concentration in archaeology and a minor in history, focused on the female campus and the roots of coeducation in the South.

“It has been especially informative to learn more about the differing opinions on the subject, even among Baylor faculty, and the rules and policies they established in order to protect the idea of coeducation when it was under fire from various sources,” Dean said. “It really gave me a clearer picture of the culture of the 19th Century South and how quickly things were changing.”

Cole Sutton, a Spring 2019 graduate who studied anthropology, classics and theology as a University Scholar, said his research on Baylor at Independence had a similar emphasis.

“I was reading theology that had been published by people I had never heard of from the mid-1800s, and it was some pretty incredible information in a lot of ways,” he said. “Getting to see that window back into another world, seeing the differences and similarities between my reality and that in which those people lived and thought was probably the most interesting part.”

Macaulay’s students also learned more about the research process and how history is curated.

“The most challenging part of this research has been collaboration as a team,” said Sarah Jones, a senior University Scholar. “Everyone entered the research with different skill sets, which are incredibly useful, but as we divided up the research, there was always the difficulty of knowing that you might run into valuable information that another member of the team might need but never find. Communication has been a vital aspect of this project.” Trey Lyon, a senior majoring in both anthropology and history, said the project has given him more respect for the “process” of history.

“Whenever a student reaches for a history book, I don’t think they understand just how much work has gone into that process. Countless hours of searching for sources, trips to the archives, compiling and writing all went into a single book. The finished product is so easy to underestimate,” Lyon said.

Libby Feray, a senior University Scholar, said, “What has been most satisfying for me is knowing that the work I’m doing is hopefully going to make a difference in how well Baylor’s heritage in Independence is preserved in the future. I’m happy to get to use skills I’ve learned during my time at Baylor to give back to the University in this way.”

As a seasoned archivist, Fisher confirmed that the students’ work has expanded the story of Baylor at Independence.

“Once they got going on their research, even after only a few weeks, they were bringing up things that I had never heard before. Their research skills, backgrounds in history and anthropology, and interest and growing knowledge in this subject have been invaluable to this project,” Fisher said. The National Register is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service with nominations shepherded through historic preservation officers in each state. The nominations for the former male and female Baylor campuses in Independence are scheduled to go before the State Board of Review in January 2020. If approved, the state historic preservation officer will then decide whether to proceed with National Register nominations.

And what about Baylor in Waco — especially the early campus at Burleson Quadrangle — which also has never been nominated for the National Register?

“That would be a really neat project, too,” Macaulay-Jameson said. “It would be a big project. Maybe I’ll have an opportunity someday in the future to do this again.”

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