Posts Tagged With: Emily D. West

Building, building, building

As class is moving forward, we are shifting more to writing about our research and presenting our research. We have been putting our findings on the Transatlantic site all along, but now we are actually building our own exhibits and writing about the things we’ve found and it is all very exciting and much more work than I anticipated.

I use the Internet all the time, to shop and find coupons, to relax on my favorite websites, to watch shows and movies, and to research everything from the artists mentioned in my Victorian Literature class to Steampunk costume ideas. I love borrowings around good exhibits, and although I was aware a lot of work went into developing complex websites, I never really considered how things got online.  After the last few weeks of class, I will never see websites the same again.

Dr. May thought we should know more about how our particular website works as well as the basics behind all websites, so we spent an entire class learning to code HTML and then another week building sites.

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(Mine is pretty!)

The site I built in class  (featuring images of books and text from my own version of “Beauty and the Beast”) helped me put together a five-page site to display the research and work I have been doing on Emily D. West and “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

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I am so proud of this website; it may look like a super-simple, text-based 90’s site (because it is) but I poured myself into building it, finding perfect (and free) images of vintage wall paper to use for wall paper, coding out the lines of the song (each line has to have its own paragraph tags, which can take ages to type), and compiling everything in the simple text editor. I also gave myself some great headaches from staring at the screen for so long and managed to impress/annoy most of my friends by proudly displaying my work.

While we were busy building our own sites, Dr. May has been working on our exhibit, and it is looking beautiful:

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(That is some of my sheet music in the image at the top!)

Everyone’s personal research has come together into a smooth story: the tale of slavery in Texas and the effect it had on the people and the culture therein. We have talked about transitions—how Texas was a place where many new slaves were sent to be broken, the way the state transitioned from a Mexican holding to a republic and then a member of the United States of America and how this affected slaves and slavery, and even the transition of the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas” as time and re-telling changed its tale.

I don’t think I can actually convey the sheer energy building up in each class as we gather and compare notes and look for next steps forward while making sure the last steps are securely in place, but I know we are on our way. This exhibit, with our team pulling in research and insight and Dr. May leading us into the realm of the Great World Wide Web, is going to be a great exhibit. We have amassed tons of papers and documents to read and transcribe. We have put in hours not only finding our documents, but also entering them into the site and typing all the little bits and pieces of data to ensure people can find and use the images.

And after studying other archives this week, I know we are building something just as professional, just as scholarly, and just as interesting here in our little class. And it’s amazing.

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Out of the Mess

This past week, we worked on the archive projects, which everyone dove into. With so much momentum and enthusiasm displayed in class, Dr. May decided to give us another week on the project and push his own plans from the syllabus back a bit.  As my other classmates have been doing secondary research and making research trips, I’ve been plumbing the depths of the Internet to get to the depths of the archives. I’ve arranged a visit to the Baylor University Texas Collection archives to gather more primary sources, including a music file hopefully, and I’ve been contacting libraries around the United States to get access to some of their documents.

I am particularly looking for information pertaining to Emily D. West and the Yellow Rose of Texas legend, including the song. I’ve written the Library of Congress, Texas A&M University, Dallas Baptist University, Texas’ State Archive, and Baylor so far. I’ll spend more time searching through other databases and sending out more humble requests. (Don’t worry Dr. May, I’ve arranged to do more in-person research at Baylor this Friday, per the assignment!) I don’t want to jinx it, but I have yet to find the persnickety librarian of stereotyped lore. All the librarians I’ve contacted have been very obliging, going into their systems to look for information, sending me links I can use to search myself, even double-checking the items I requested to make sure they are what I described.

I’ve found some interesting archives among all these libraries. I should save this for a later class assignment (dibs!) but I wanted to show you some of the beautiful work other people have done on Texas history!

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This archive was put together for the Texas State Library and Archive. I love how tidy the exhibit is. It’s pretty, well-written, and even has a snappy title! The information is organized in an intuitive way, and it’s easy to find out why we should care about these letters and documents. When you click on “Passport of Emily D. West“:

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I bet they would LOVE to get a copy of UTA’s letter for this exhibit!

Overall, looking at this exhibit helped give me an idea of what we are working to create. We are compiling history in order to present it in an organized and informative way, but in a way that is still engaging and fun.

My research has continued into the history of the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Despite supposedly was based on Emily D. West, there is actually no concrete evidence linking her to the song. How cool would it be to actually find the legendary “Maid of Morgan’s Point” lyrics? Or even an older version that might link back to Emily? As I’m diving in to the myriad of song sheets and lyrics online, I am also planning trips around the state to see those primary sources.

As we continue to collect information, a sort of single vision is emerging, and I know this class is going to produce an excelling online exhibit. I can’t wait to see who turns up what next!

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Ode to Archives

I thought archival research would be a new and interesting challenge, but I love libraries, am relatively good at research, and usually can finish my school work without too much fear and trembling. I was not all that daunted by the assignment. However, I’ve learned archival research is a lot more complicated than I thought. The class got the details of our assignment on Thursday night: we had exactly one week to find and upload some kind of document to the Transatlantic Writing Project. With Friday and Sunday the only days I did not have work obligations, the schedule turned into the first hurdle. Thankfully, my group members (Andrew and Justin) and me were able to meet Friday morning at the UTA Specials Collection.


We walked into the archive and found a beautiful library, with burnished wood shelves and desks and graceful old books lined up neatly, preserved behind glass and illuminated with soft lighting. The library is designed with nooks and alcoves, each fitted with a large table for a group to gather around and spread out materials. Book rests and stacks of paper are scattered around, waiting for eager researchers. The best part of the library, though, was the librarians.

The librarians in the special collection were fantastic. They were kind and obliging, helping us navigate the catalogs and indexes, bringing out material they thought would work, and revealing the mysteries of the library to me. After a long morning, I had to leave with a list of relevant information, and was unable to go back to the library. Thankfully, Andrew and Justin had different time constraints and were able to go back to the library together, when a librarian brought out our jewel, the Emily D. West letter. We could not have gotten anywhere on this assignment without the assistance of the librarians, and I have thank you notes and Starbucks cards waiting to be delivered to the UTA Specials Collection on Wednesday.

On the way to finding our letter, we waded through a LOT of old materials. First, we found a collection on a lawyer who had charges brought against him in Texas for being an abolitionist; we don’t know if his accusers were able to disbar him, but we did read through a 26-page letter comparing Texas to New York, I believe. Sadly, there was not a mention of slaves or other black people, so we were forced to dig deeper. From there, we looked over the papers of an old slaveholder; he kept a journal with births and deaths of all his slaves. However, his writing was hard to read (a grave disappointment after the beautifully written lawyer’s letter), and we decided to look further. A family who kept every scrap of paper and receipt ever had it’s own box; we read through receipts and letters and orders and bills for over an hour, but we could not find the freemen’s contracts promised by the index, nor did the letters mention slaves. My own archival research ended after surrendering to that old box, but my partners persevered until we were brought the Emily D. West Letter.



This letter is one of the only three pieces of paper surviving directly relating to Emily D. West, better known as the legendary Yellow Rose of Texas. UTA has the only paper with her actual signature!

 Finding an interesting piece at the archive was only the first half of this adventure. From there, we had to obtain permission to use the piece, double-check with Dr. May, get a hold of additional material to supplement the letter, transcribe the letter ourselves, check it against the transcription provided by the library, get a better scan to put on the website, talk even more with the wonderful librarians (who got us an excellent image of the letter!), write annotations, and move on from there.

We are still working on our annotations, to date, and still putting the project together, but over all, it has been an amazing experience. Dr. May is right; there is nothing quite like going into the archives, meeting with the guardians of knowledge there, finding interesting old documents, wading through the detritus of one life only to find jewels buried in the midst. I felt like a treasure hunter, a fearless explorer. I was awed by the age, the history, the documents, the librarians. Words fail here. Next time, you need to come with me.

(And go Like the Specials Collection Facebook Page!)

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