Cumby Independent School District history teacher Ryan Petty this summer had the opportunity to not only pursue his passion for American history, but meet authors whose books he’d read in college and from whom he received information and tips that will translate to the classroom.

Petty, who has taught a subject he loves in his hometown for the last 17 years, was selected to attend Humanities Texas’ prestigious professional development institute June 25-28 at Southern Methodist University.

Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, whose goal is “to advance education through programs that improve the quality of classroom teaching, support libraries and museums and create opportunities for lifelong learning for all Texans,” offers workshops for social studies and English language arts teachers throughout the year. This summer the group hosted five four-day institutes.

Petty was accepted for the summer program, cosponsored by SMU and made possible with support from the State of Texas and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Texas Humanities pays for the whole thing — lunch, stipends to go over there. It’s a great program,” Petty said. “I was about the only one from Northeast Texas there. There were a lot from Dallas schools and San Antonio and Austin. I don’t think a lot of history teachers in the area know about it, or they would probably see about going. There’s a lot of good information.”

“Humanities Texas was pleased to cosponsor the Dallas institute,” said Executive Director Michael L. Gillette. “Giving talented teachers the opportunity to interact with their peers and leading scholars will enable them to engage students with exciting new resources and perspectives on our nation’s history.”

In all, nearly 250 Texas teachers participated in the five summer institutes held by Humanities Texas in June 2018. Faculty members included Pulitzer Prize-winning historians David M. Oshinsky from New York University, David Kennedy from Stanford and Alan Taylor from the University of Virginia; National Book Award finalist John Phillip Santos, The University of Texas at San Antonio; and many other scholars from universities across the nation, according to Marissa Kessenich, Humanities Texas communications officer.

The topic of the three-day institute was “The Gilded Age,” which spanned roughly from 1875 to 1905, the period of time immediately following the Civil War.

The institute was part of the “Democracy and the Informed Citizen” initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils. The initiative seeks to deepen the public’s knowledge and appreciation of the vital connections between democracy, the humanities, journalism and an informed citizenry, according to a press release from Humanities Texas.

Petty said his personal interest in history started in high school with the study of the Civil War. At Cumby ISD, he teaches eighth grade history, which covers half of American history, including the Civil War; world history and geography (depending on enrollment and demand); United States history; and dual credit history through Paris Junior College, which includes Cumby students in the class and working with Campbell students via computer. He has also been a Civil War re-enactor for a couple of decades and even dresses in period attire when teaching his eighth graders about the Civil War.

Being able to attend a development program about the American Gilded Age was not only personally rewarding, but also professionally beneficial.

“I was given a large amount of resources and access to university professors who are experts in their field,” stated Petty. “All of that information will be used in my classroom to show the influence of the time period on labor rights, women’s rights and minority rights.”

The institute focused on the legacy of Reconstruction; presidential politics; capitalism and the rise of big business; Native Americans and U.S. Indian policy; immigration and the immigrant experience; the labor movement; industrialization; the emergence of Jim Crow; scientific, technological and medical innovation during the Gilded Age; populism and the agricultural revolution; art and literature of the era; women in public life; American imperialism and significant Supreme Court decisions during the Gilded Age.

“It was interesting to get to see their thoughts and interpretations, things they are doing. They discussed how it can be used in the classroom. They used primary sources and documents,” Petty said of the lecturers’ presentations. “We only have three to four weeks in class we can cover the Gilded Age. They introduced articles that I can use in class for more interaction with the students.”

Petty said he had read books by three of the presenters in college but had never had an opportunity to meet them before.

“They sat down with us for 30 minutes for discussion in small groups and answered questions,” the Cumby teacher said.

He particularly enjoyed the sessions about minority groups, learning what the Native Americans went through during that time, discussions about the way African Americans gained rights following the Civil War then lost them almost immediately. He said use of primary sources, different people’s writings, really helped show what it was like for different individuals and groups, what they were going through during the Gilded Age.

Petty said overall he really enjoyed the experience, the new material he can share with his students, different perspectives, and being able to talk and share ideas and teaching strategies with not only the professors, but also history teachers from across the state.

For more information about Humanities Texas, visit


Faith Huffman is a member of the news team at the Sulphur Springs News-Telegram and covers education, crime and events. She can be reached at 903-885-8663 or by emailing

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