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K-State Today

October 19, 2012

Students' exhibit on African-American settlers in Wabaunsee County now on display at Union

Submitted by Micaela Rausch

Chapman Center for Rural Studies, in support of the Kansas State Book Network program, is is exhiiting again a student-researched and written exhibit about African-American settlers in Wabaunsee County.

The tabletop display can be found on the first floor of the K-State Union. First conceived in 2008, the exhibit is the culmination of three semesters of work by undergraduates in Chapman Center's African-American Kansas class. The decision to concentrate on Wabaunsee County was based on discoveries of extensive primary source material in Alma Museum, but also on need.

M.J. Morgan, who directed students in this research, says that little published material existed about the former slave families who came to Wabaunsee County from Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky. Chapman Center students worked at Alma Museum, visited cemeteries, former homesteads and school sites. They attended cultural events like the Paxico Blues Festival and obtained interviews with former residents with deep roots in Paxico, Maple Hill and the vanished community of Newbury. Census returns helped to establish patterns of residence and school attendance. Students produced maps based on this data.

Since 2008, this exhibit has traveled to various venues, including professional conferences and Kansas State Historical Society. Its permanent home is Alma Museum. The research papers that support the exhibit are posted online through Hale Library's K-REX collections. 

Morgan said that undergraduate research into the history and lives of myriad peoples living in the counties around Kansas State University is a dynamic form of outreach and engagement.

"It's the best teaching laboratory I know of," she said. "This kind of 'on-the-ground' research requires undergraduates to synthesize information from a variety of sources, to make decisions about resource value and ethical use. Their work becomes rooted in personal commitment."

On Oct. 30, Kansas State Book Network events will include a showcase of student research, "Speaking the Silences: Race and Gender in Kansas History," in which other research by undergraduates will be featured, including a ground-breaking study of female one-room schoolhouse teachers by 2011 Chapman Center intern, Katy Goerl. This event will be in the Hale Library Hemisphere Room. For more information, and to learn about the Kansas State Book Network 2012 roster, please go to www.k-state.edu/ksbn/.

While Chapman Center students focus on Kansas history, Morgan points out that students do not need to be history majors to take Chapman courses or participate in its internship programs.

"Some of the best work I've seen comes from undergraduates in biology, journalism, agriculture, anthropology and geography. The diversity creates a strength and depth," Morgan said.

"Land of Freedom: African-American Settlers in Wabaunsee County" will be on display in the Union for several weeks.