The University of Arizona

Course Explores UA History, Traditions

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications | April 30, 2010

UA students in Martha Few's class have spent the semester investigating student involvement during the Mexican Revolution, the medical school's founding and the origins of Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat.

"Rufus Arizona," the UA's first mascot, was named after then-UA President Rufus Bernard von KleinSmid, who served from 1914 to 1921. (Photo courtesy of the UA Special Collections)
The UA's football team, practicing in a field near Old Main, won the first Territorial Football Championship. (Photo courtesy of the UA Special Collections)
The UA's football team, practicing in a field near Old Main, won the first Territorial Football Championship. (Photo courtesy of the UA Special Collections)
The UA's main campus, facing west, contained a small scattering of buildings in the 1920s compared with today. The polo field is toward the far left of the image. (Photo courtesy of the UA Special Collections)
The UA's main campus, facing west, contained a small scattering of buildings in the 1920s compared with today. The polo field is toward the far left of the image. (Photo courtesy of the UA Special Collections)
Historically, University students have protested a number of wars, including the Vietnam War. Peaceful protests included speeches, boycotts of University classes and a march from the UA to the federal building. (Photo courtesy of Special Collections)
Historically, University students have protested a number of wars, including the Vietnam War. Peaceful protests included speeches, boycotts of University classes and a march from the UA to the federal building. (Photo courtesy of Special Collections)

Timothy Kinney had heard rumors that University of Arizona faculty members wielded rifles and converted the then-Agriculture Building into a fort during the Mexican Revolution – and he found documents to back up the claims.

Kinney, a history major who graduates from the UA in May, conducted the research as part of Martha Few's capstone course History 396, or "The History of the University of Arizona."

Not only were faculty members involved in the Mexican Revolution, but much of the campus community had a part in the World War I effort, he found.

"At the beginning of my research, faculty involvement during the war was purely speculative as far as I was concerned," said Kinney, who consulted photographs, newspapers, books, manuscripts and other papers.

"I was excited to learn that UA professors, at one time, had prepared themselves and the University for an invasion," he said. "It's bizarre to think of professors today doing the same thing, and it shows the uncertainty of the times."

The class culminates with a free, public event, “2010 Student Research Symposium – 125 Years of UA History," from 4:30-6 p.m. May 5 at Special Collections.

Special Collections and the UA's history department are co-hosting the research forum, which also commemorates the UA's Silver & Sage Celebration, its 125th anniversary. 

"One of my larger goals in having the symposium is to highlight research, and the importance for research in our disciplines," said Few, who has taught research-centered courses since arriving at the UA six years ago.

"The debates today have historic origins, and seeing the continuity and difference is important," she added.

Other students in the class studied a range UA-related topics, such as its founding, military training program, first female professors, student traditions, Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat and a number of academic and athletic programs. 

The history department offers the course each semester, but Few, a UA associate professor of history, wanted to involve students in a project that commemorated the UA's 125th anniversary while also utilizing the institution's research resources.

She intended for the class to help her students improve their research skills while allowing them to investigate parts of the University previously unknown to them.

"The students have made it their own, and the topics are serious and fun and from their own perspectives," Few said.

Few worked with Veronica Reyes, a UA associate librarian, to coordinate workshops where students learned about research. Few also allowed students to review each other's work and support one another in their proposals, data collection, writing assignments and revisions.

For their research, Kinney and other students primarily consulted UA Special Collections, a repository containing rare books, archives, photographs, manuscripts and other material specific to the Southwest and regions in Mexico.

Students used photographs, letters, scrapbooks, memos, news clippings and other documents. For instance, the collection's University of Arizona Biographical File contains newspapers, scrapbooks, biographical sketches, resumes, photographs and other documents dating back to 1876 on University students, faculty members and staff. 

Kinney's paper, "The Right is More Precious Than Peace:' The University of Arizona during Wartime, 1916-1919," carries the inscription on the WWI memorial foundation located west of Old Main and speaks to campus occurrences during the Mexican Revolution. 

In his paper, Kinney details ways faculty members formed a militia group during the summer of 1916, supplying what is now known as the Forbes Building with provisions.

Kinney said a majority of the campus community participated in some way during World War I, whether via service to the military or Red Cross.

"Life on campus was turned upside down during the war, and any sense of what had once been a normal UA experience vanished," Kinney said, noting that 649 students left for service with 12 dying during the war.

"The best example of the drastic change on campus was when students returned to school in the fall of 1918," he said, noting that the UA has become a military training camp. Residence halls were converted into barracks, the dining hall became a mess hall and armed guards were stationed at campus entrances. 

"We take that for granted, perhaps, living in such a secure society where the last thing on our minds is a foreign invasion," he added, "but I believe that through an understanding of the historical context that the UA developed from, we can better understand situations today."

Another student in the class, Jessica Mejía, opted to study the history of UA student activism working on a project she titled “Mexican American Students at the University of Arizona and their Student Movements during the 1960s and 1970s."

"The more I worked in Special Collections the more I felt the need to focus on student protest, especially since it related really well with recent issues," said Mejía, a junior majoring in history and Mexican American studies.

She found that UA students were most active during the 1960s and 1970s, often rallying around anti-Vietnam War protests. 

She also found that while Mexican American and African American students also mobilized around institutional issues, few newspaper accounts detailed the particular needs of Mexican American students.

"It was pretty interesting, especially since I had a hard time finding any pictures of movements," she said.

"But what I found to be most interesting is mention of a lot of community members I already knew of who had worked with communities to establish centers," said Mejía, who was raised in Tucson. "I was able to relate to those people, and I really like the paper. It relates so much to recent events."

Contacts

Martha Few

UA Department of History

520-621-5044

mfew@u.arizona.edu


Gabrielle Sykes-Casavant

University of Arizona Libraries

520-307-0877