Show Me Missouri
(Top) Associate Professor of History Catherine Rymph took a lead role in creating the new minor in Missouri Studies, contacting faculty in various departments to see what courses they already have on the books that could become part of the core or elective courses for the 15-credit-hour minor.
English Professor Sam Cohen, who is developing the course on Missouri writers, looks forward to diving back in to the writings of Mark Twain and T.S. Eliot and many other prominent Missouri writers.
In May 1804, Army officers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and a hardy bunch of explorers, French boatmen, soldiers, and Clark’s slave, York, began their momentous journey from St. Louis, traveling up the Missouri River to explore the new lands acquired by the Louisiana Purchase. Following their return to St. Louis in 1806, both men were instrumental in creating the future state of Missouri, although only Clark lived long enough to witness statehood in 1821. Their story, and the stories of countless others who shaped the history, culture, and politics of the Show Me State will be the focus of the new minor in Missouri studies at the University of Missouri.
“Studying Missouri is not just about studying the state we live in,” says Catherine Rymph, an associate professor of history at MU. Because there are so many important people and events originating in Missouri, she thinks that a lot of our national story can be found in Missouri studies.
Rymph has taken a lead role in creating the new minor, contacting faculty in various departments to see what courses they already have on the books that could become part of the core or elective courses for the 15-credit-hour minor. A number of faculty members also expressed interest in creating new courses after the minor is launched this fall.
“What is encouraging about that is we have so many fantastic faculty here who are well known nationally in their area of expertise, and this is an opportunity for them to take their national expertise and turn that lens on our state,” she says.
The Heart of the Minor
Rymph says there are four core courses: the History of Missouri, the Politics of Missouri, the Geography of Missouri, and Missouri Writers. English Professor Sam Cohen is developing the course on Missouri writers.
“I still haven’t picked a core group of writers, but I’m discovering all of these writers who, depending on how you define what a Missouri writer is, would qualify,” Cohen says. “There are a number of writers I had not previously connected to Missouri.” Cohen grew up in New Jersey and lived for decades in New York City and says this project is a way to get to know the state better after living here for 14 years.
“I think the African-American experience in Missouri can be a through line that the course can take from Langston Hughes to Maya Angelou to the poets writing about Ferguson,” he says. “And there are kinds of works I wouldn’t normally teach, like the comedy of Dick Gregory and Redd Foxx, that I might like to include.” Cohen says he’s also looking forward to diving back in to the writings of Mark Twain and T.S. Eliot and many other prominent Missouri writers.
The proposal for the undergraduate minor in Missouri studies notes that now is the ideal time to launch the minor, since the State Historical Society of Missouri’s new Center for Missouri Studies building is scheduled to open in 2019.
“One of my goals is to have this institution and this campus identified as the go-to place for information about Missouri history and culture,” says Gary Kremer, the executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri. He says when Lewis Atherton, Francis English, and other scholars were teaching at MU, the institution was the primary source of information about state history and culture, but he says interest in Missouri as a research field dissipated over time. “It’s a shame, because there is probably more scholarly research in Missouri history from scholars outside of the state, so my goal is to make the study of Missouri history and culture a fertile research field for scholars on this campus again.”
A view of the new Center for Missouri Studies from Peace Park.
Kremer says he’d eventually like to see many more masters’ theses and doctoral dissertations being pursued at MU in history, archaeology, geography, music, religion, literature, and other disciplines that are still being identified as potential contributors to the minor. He says the state statute that authorizes the State Historical Society of Missouri gives the organization two missions: to collect and preserve, and to educate. “I think we’ve done really well on the first part,” he says, “and the second part is what we are trying to emphasize now, and the new building will offer us a much bigger opportunity to fulfill the educational part of our mission.”
Opportunities to Expand
Rymph says the minor has been created from the resources and courses currently available, but it is an open structure that will encourage faculty to create new courses that can be added to the minor. She says proponents also want to build in a field component so students can get outside of Columbia to explore the rest of the state.
“I think this minor would be particularly interesting for students who want to build their careers in Missouri, say in politics or journalism or tourism or education, and having this interdisciplinary, broad view would be very beneficial,” she says.
Although Missouri State University offers an Ozark studies minor that focuses solely on the Ozarks region, MU’s Missouri studies minor will be the first offered in the state that takes a comprehensive view of Missouri, providing crucial knowledge about our state’s diverse history, culture, resources and policy challenges.