Dr. Light Cummins: Texas State Historian

With the July-August issue, Texoma Living! inaugurates a new section in the magazine, Texoma Heritage. We decided early on that each issue should have a story touching on people, places and things past, and generally, we’ve done a pretty good job of holding to that idea. It’s really not that difficult. There is a lot of interesting history around here.

The decision to make our commitment to the area’s historical heritage more visible was well timed. Perhaps Clio, the muse of history and the daughter of Zeus, was pulling a few strings, because a few days after the editorial board gave the idea the go ahead, the import of history locally was brought to the fore when Governor Perry named Austin College Professor of History Light T. Cummins to the post of Texas State Historian.

For the next two years, Dr. Cummins will add to his duties teaching Texas and Civil War history to AC students, by traveling Texas to restate the need for knowing who we are and from whence we came. It’s a big job. That famous “someone” who says so many notable things, noted that “Texas is one of the only states of the Union with a real history rather than a record of development.” It may sound like Texas brag to some, but there is something to it. Ask Dr. Cummins.

“[The state of Texas history] is strong, and it’s changing,” said Cummins. “Texas has changed a lot in the last thirty or forty years. Texas history, as an enterprise, is being revitalized, and the state has put a tremendous amount of monetary resources into advocating the study of Texas history. Right now, for example, the Texas State Archives are being remodeled with a multimillion dollar renovation.”

The interest in Lone Star history is growing strongly in other areas also. Cummins said that membership in the Texas State Historical Association had tripled in the last year, and the Society recently moved into new quarters in Denton. “Across the state there’s a real renewed interest in Texas history,” Cummins said.
In his new post, Cummins will be at the forefront of this renewed interest. “The state historian is charged with advising the governor and the legislature on historical matters. That includes such things as laws having to do with the regulation of teaching in the state, and having to do with the state archives and library and the Texas State Historical Commission.

“It is also my duty to advocate appreciation for the history of Texas all around the state. There are more than six hundred museums in Texas and more than twelve hundred archives and libraries and almost five thousand schools where Texas history is taught.”

Dr. Cummins sees himself as an advocate for Texas history, and that is important. The past will always be there, but only in the present can we preserve it and study it and learn from it. So we need to be reminded what will be lost if our history, individual and collective, is lost.

Over the long reach of time, the quarter million longhorns that splashed across the Red River at Rock Bluff in 1866, the Sherman tornado of 1896, the opening of the Denison Dam in 1944, a kid with an Ashburn’s ice cream cone in the 1950s are crowded together in almost the same moment. Our goal is to put a few markers on the timeline to help our readers locate and remember the significant and not so significant events of our past.

Photo courtesy of Associated Press.