This year, I am lucky enough to be working with the Burges House creating an in-person exhibit as well as an online exhibit that will cover El Paso’s time during the Second World War. As my minor is in Museum Studies at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), I could not have asked for a better assignment. It is an opportunity to apply that which I have learned in my classes to an exhibit that will be seen and experienced by the public. This makes me excited to work with my faculty supervisor from the History of Department at UTEP, Dr. Brad Cartwright, and my project partner, Undergraduate Research Fellow Jordyn Wright.
Our first couple of days at the El Paso County Historical Society's Burges House were spent combing through the archives and memorability that has been donated from citizens from El Paso and beyond. It was interesting to find touching personal notes mixed in with the items explaining the reasonings why they wanted to donate to the house for themselves or on behalf of their friends or relatives. A large number of these items we were finding were related to the expansive military history of El Paso and its surrounding counties. It is the prominent place held by World War II, both for the country and our city, that we decided for it to be the focus of our exhibits. One of the most prestigious items the house is in possession of is a Medal of Honor that was awarded to a well-known and distinguished El Pasoan, William Hawkins. From what we were told, to have access to such an award is a rare and a great honor, and it is one that we wanted to take the opportunity to display in our exhibits. El Paso being a military town, our role in the military is clear. With this exhibit, our goal is to illustrate what wartime was like not only on the front lines but on the Homefront. With the location of El Paso being on the US-Mexico border, we wanted to illuminate the unique experience had by El Pasoans left at home.
In our efforts to reach the most amount of people, we will create both an in-person exhibit that will be at the Burges House and an online exhibit that will be on their website. We hope to bring more interest and attention to the Burges House and its efforts to preserve and educate people about the history of El Paso. I have high hopes for the project this academic year and am looking forward to working with everyone I’ve met at the house to do the subject matter of the exhibits justice and benefit all those interested in learning a bit of history.
People often do not think about how their city and how its people experienced events long ago. Yet, my time at the El Paso County Historical Society has taught me that El Paso, Texas, being a relatively small and diverse city, endured significant changes during WWI and WWII. When first arriving at the Burges House, the society’s headquarters located in El Paso's Sunset Heights Historic District, I did not know what to expect. My colleague, Undergraduate Research Fellow Sarah Lord, and I when first stepping into the archives room of Burges House, browsed around and soon were drawn to the same topics: World Wars One and Two. We'd soon come across some interesting pictures and documents of El Pasoans serving in those wars, and while there was not much other than images to look through and gather knowledge from, we felt we'd both had learned a lot about WWI and WWII in El Paso. While my time at the Burges House was limited due to some COVID restrictions, looking through all that they had really benefited me in the start of our project, not only looking through what was available for our specific topic but also what other wartime moments were important to El Paso's history that many are not aware of. El Paso is located near one of the biggest army bases in the country, Fort Bliss, which further emphasizes the importance of wartime history here in El Paso, Texas.
Taking what I knew from the images and few documents from the archives, I started to do my own research of wartime in El Paso. This led to me finding more about WWII in El Paso rather than WWI history. My first outlet of research was newspapers.com; while this was difficult for me to work at first and was not as helpful as I expected, I could see that it had a lot of helpful information once filtered out about important wartime heroes from El Paso and the struggles here during the war. To get more information about these topics I decided to do my own research that led to me discovering what life was like here. For example, I'd learned that:
1.) Women in other parts of the country took initiative and took over male jobs while they were away fighting in the war during WWII, but women here in El Paso were not favored for those types of jobs, and once those men came back, their jobs were given right back to them. It took El Paso some time to break free and to have women to have their own rights to work in the workforce, and...
2.) Nearby Fort Bliss had a huge role to play during the wartime, and it, like many other bases across the country, provided training for those going into the war as well as to help enlist young men into the military to fight during wartime. During this time, there were many changes that were made in El Paso that people today don't often don’t question as to how or when things came to be. Rather, numerous cultural practices are simply carried out without the thought of how events like wartime create such practices. Instead, we take for granted everyday of those changes that were made that provide us numerous opportunities.
The archives at Burges House and other research opportunities have enabled me to learn new things about I place where I'd lived my entire life. As Sarah and I continue in our research, I'm looking forward to seeing what kinds of things we can uncover during out time with the Humanities Collaborative.
Written by Sarah Lord and Jordyn Wright, Undergraduate Research Fellows
The University of Texas at El Paso, The Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP
Banner image courtesy of The El Paso County Historical Society.
A couple of days ago, I came across an article about a letter written by John Steinbeck to Marilyn Monroe—yes, the Nobel-prize winner to the curvy sex symbol. But what would a literary writer be asking from the Hollywood bombshell?