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Tradition And Modernity Essay Contest

Local History is Texas History — the 2017 Save Texas History Essay Contest

What history in your community is worth saving? That’s the question we’re asking 4th and 7th grade Texas History students in this year’s annual Save Texas History Essay Contest.

We can all think of something in our community that makes it unique, interesting, and worthy of attention and preservation. In Texas, we take great pride in our history and it shows. But local history doesn’t have to be world-famous to be worth saving. From early Spanish villas, to rural towns and modern bustling metropolises, local community history is the foundation upon which Texas history is constructed. We should all be mindful of our local history, and be able to articulate its collective value to other Texans. There are towns and cities all over Texas that point to things that make them special. For instance, what would Waco be without its historic suspension bridge, or Tyler without its Rose Festival, or Austin without Barton Springs?

Our communities are built in part on recognizable local icons or traditions–buildings, parks, events, and other things that bring diverse groups of people together. We can all think of several things in our hometowns that, if they were lost, would adversely impact their “specialness.” Kids can too. The Save Texas History Essay Contest is a chance for 4th and 7th grade students to showcase their communities and draw attention to their own vision of Texas history. Our students live, play, attend school, and have their own experiences in the place where they grow up — and we want to know what history around them is worth saving.

What could students find in their own towns that are worth saving and sharing? Examples might be a neighborhood barber shop that not only provides a service, but functions as a meeting place for friends and neighbors. It could be a festival that celebrates and symbolizes a town’s cultural heritage, or a building whose architecture is so unique that tearing it down would forever change the character of the area. It could be an economic landmark like the Sugar Building in Sugarland, that Abby House from Needville featured in her award-winning essay from last year’s contest, or a dance hall where a student’s parents met, like Shawnee Pool from Pottsboro described in her winning essay.

Now is an important moment in time for Texans to think about what history in their community is worth saving. With Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, some of our coastal communities might have lost local institutions. Perhaps this contest can help in some small way by giving students the chance to share with the rest of Texas what was lost and why it is worth saving — even if all that can be saved are memories.

Why an old-fashioned essay contest? It’s simple really. Writing is an essential skill that children need to develop to communicate effectively. Students, or anybody for that matter, should be able to express themselves effectively through the written word. Essay writing allows students to reflect deeply about a subject they know something about: their community. It encourages contemplation about their local community, and helps them to organize their thoughts and then turn them into words. The Save Texas History Essay Contest is all about putting thoughts to paper in a coherent, organized, and interesting way, and asking students to think critically about the history of their community.

So how do we get students excited about writing? First, give them something to write about that connects to their own experience, like the Save Texas History Essay Contest! Second, provide them a stimulus that will motivate them toward the goal — and it doesn’t have to include words.

This year’s grand prizes for the winning 4th and 7th grade essays are $500 each — cash — courtesy of Bob Eskridge of Bob Eskridge and Associates and Chris Cantu of Edward Jones, along with Texas flags that have flown over the state capitol, courtesy of the Moses Austin Chapter of the Sons of the Republic of Texas and Ms. Susan M. Jones. Four runners-up in each grade, along with the winning entries, will receive Save Texas History backpacks, a reproduction of a historic map from the GLO Archives, and a Letter of Appreciation from Commissioner George P. Bush. This essay contest would not be possible without the generous support of these individuals and organizations, and proves that saving Texas history can take many different shapes: from sponsoring a contest, to encouraging students to identify what history is important to them, to adopting a map. We sincerely appreciate our sponsors’ strong commitment to making this contest meaningful for Texas history students across the state.

Parents and teachers across Texas, please encourage your 4th and 7th grade students to do their part to help Save Texas History, and enter the essay contest to add their voices to the story of this great state. There is incredible value in the history and traditions of the communities that help shape these young Texans, and we can’t wait to read about it.

All entries should be postmarked by midnight, October 31, 2017. Additional details are included in the entry forms available online.

Essay Excerpt

Sightreading the contemporary counterpoint between United States' traditions and current thought is a preoccupation of scholars in an "American studies' genre that includes social scientists, historians, and literary scholars. Their interpretations, listened to by scholars and a middle-class public alike, suggest patterns in relationships between history and values, between events and their meanings. In framing matters otherwise remote, opaque, and inchoate, many of these interpretations come to have long tenure as themselves ideologies. Such broad vision and critical works in the American studies genre are doubly interesting therefore: they tell students of cultures what some influential Americans see as being "culture," "structure," and "history," and they manufacture social thought before our very eyes.

My concern is with one detail of this interpretive process: the systems of meaning governing American cultural critics' apprehensions of the relationship between tradition and modernity. How do their understandings of the nature of that relationship influence the interpretations they produce? What kind of "opposition" do they posit? In ethnographically reading such works as a distinctive kind of Western cultural discourse built around a tradition/modernity distinction, I want to ask what the semantic and semiotic dimensions of a discourse might reveal beyond or about announced topics and methods. (Perin, 425)

About the Author

Constance Perin received her AB and AM in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a master's degree in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, and her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from The American University. The author of three other books, since 1983 she has conducted most of her research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is a Visiting Scholar in Anthropology. Among her honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship, a two-year National Science Foundation research award, a research and writing award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a Fulbright Fellowship, two residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation's Villa Serbelloni, and visiting appointments at other universities here and abroad.

"As a cultural anthropologist, I've specialized in the study of professional work, knowledge, and value systems and how their differences affect the ways specialists collaborate. Fellowships, grants, and colleagues' invitations to participate in research projects have made possible my career as an independent scholar. Most recently, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Program in Global Security and Sustainability awarded me a grant for Research and Writing and the National Science Foundation earlier made a two-year individual award for field studies."