Object: Hearing Aid

2012_6_7 (1)

Hearing Aid
Date: 19th Century
Material: Metal and Enamel

Hearing aid technologies have a long history, going nearly as far as deaf culture and community itself. Hearing technologies over time have empowered the deaf culture in the fight to be recognized as able citizens, not individuals with a disability. As one might guess much of the culture and identity of the deaf community is centered on language, but it is also focused on shared knowledge and a large support system. The deaf community is more than a group of non-hearing individuals; it is made up of people who share a history, language and struggle, which is an integral part of cultural development.


London Dome IMAGE CREDIT: OTICON, ERIKSHOLM MUSEUM Via: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/soundandfury/cochlear/cipop/popup4.html

This object is very similar to the early London Dome Ear trumpet or, as it was also known, the Grand Opera Dome (1850-1880s). This device got its name because of their popularity at the opera. The dome shape of the piece made them well equipped to pick up voice frequencies. It is a simple hearing device, with a large thin metal dome attached to a smaller metal tube that would fit into the user’s ear. Struggles for the non-hearing to be seen as normal in the eyes of a hearing society were evident in many of the hearing aid technologies throughout history.

In the earliest written records we find philosophers and saints giving the first perspectives on individuals who could not hear, and they felt they were inherently inferior to those who could hear. This notion was based on the idea that the deaf could not be properly educated because they lacked language. In the deaf culture’s formative years they were cast out of religious institutions because they were thought to be under the punishment of God and without language could not learn about faith. It was not until Saint Augustine that the deaf community was recognized as having the foundations of language. He claimed that their body movements and gestures could be considered language and thus they could learn about faith and find salvation.

St. Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

St. Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

Saint Augustine opened the door for the individuals with a severe hearing loss to be recognized as part of society and by the 6th century we saw physicians in Europe trying to ‘cure’ the deaf. It wasn’t until the 16th Century that schools for the deaf were developed. Doctors realized it was not something that could be ‘cured’ because being deaf is not always related to illness. These schools would become the foundations of modern deaf culture. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet in the 1800s traveled to Europe to learn about deaf education, after his to return to the United States he established the American School for the Deaf. His son Edward Miner Gallaudet would follow in his father’s footstep giving deaf culture their first university, Gallaudet University.

Over time we see technologies develop from the cumbersome ear trumpets of the 1700s to royal armchairs in Europe equipped with devices to amplify sound for whoever was occupying the chair. There were even end tables with vases or urns disguising amplifying technologies. Over time, with the drive to no longer be immediately recognized as non-hearing, technologies became smaller and more easily disguised. Developers tried everything, even fitting devices to glasses and shaping earpieces to fit directly into the ear canal, which leaves us with today’s most powerful and controversial hearing aid technology, the cochlear implant.

The cochlear implant is the most recent hearing aid technology developed and it has by far caused the most heated debate in the deaf community since its inception. This is an electronic device that is surgically placed under the skull flesh behind the ear. An external portion is attached and connects to the implant using a magnet. The external portion allows the individual to control the sound volume or turn the device on and off. For some this device gives them the opportunity to be a part of the hearing community, as well as the deaf community. Parents with children who are born with a severe hearing loss are encouraged to consider the implant at an early age so as the child matures they learn how to hear and speak. Often individuals who get the implant later in life find speaking to be a challenge, as they have to develop the muscles to speak as well as learning the language itself. The documentary ‘Sound and Fury’ (2000) outlines the controversy of the cochlear implant as it follow a family as they investigate the benefits and cultural consequences of this new technology. The deaf culture has overcome many struggles but must continue educating others to build an understanding of what it means to be deaf and help preserve their culture. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Video clips from the documentary ‘Sound and Fury’ can be seen here.

Additional Resources:

Bruce Kent; Sandra Smith. They Only See It When the Sun Shines in My Ears: Exploring Perceptions of Adolescent Hearing Aid Users. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. Vol. 11, No. 4  (FALL 2006), pp. 461-476. Oxford University Press.

P. Prinsley; G. J. Madden; D. J. Premachandra. Provision Of Hearing AIDS. British Medical Journal, Vol. 299, No. 6705  (Oct. 14, 1989), p. 979. BMJ.

Supply Of Hearing-Aids. The British Medical Journal. Vol. 2, No. 4729, Educational Number  (Aug. 25, 1951), pp. 70-71. BMJ.

T R. Scott Stevenson. The Working Of A Hearing-Aid Clinic. The British Medical Journal. Vol. 1, No. 4559  (May 22, 1948), pp. 990-992. BMJ.

Value Of Hearing-Aids. The British Medical Journal. Vol. 2, No. 4674  (Aug. 5, 1950), pp. 364-365. BMJ.

44th Annual Texas FolkLife Festival…coming soon!

Print The Texas FolkLife Festival is just around the corner now, be sure to save the dates (June 13th and 14th)! More information about the event, VIA park & ride services, tickets, and schedules can be found at the Institute of Texan Cultures website. Hope to see you there!

Photo Quiz

The answer to last month’s quiz is…a typewriter!

I-0392i (6)






Can you guess what these are?







We’ll post the answer on June 18th. Good luck!

Object: Flag

I-0416a (2)
Late 20th Century (1980’s)
Materials: Cloth

This object is a replica of the National Flag of the Federal Republic Germany that was given to the Institute of Texan Cultures by the German Consulate in 1988. While the flag appears to be of a simple design, the history behind the design and colors used have a long history behind them!

When and where was the first German national flag created?

The modern national flag of Germany was declared in 1949, but the roots of the design and color go back centuries. The area that is now modern Germany was historically made up of many independent states, and these states were only loosely held together as part of the larger Holy Roman Empire. Germany was not unified into its own country until the Congress of Vienna in 1814. Often toted as the first flag of Germany, the forerunner of today’s German national flag was first flown at a rally known as the Hambach Festival in 1832 at Hambach Castle in Hambach, Germany.

What’s Hambach Castle, and why is it important?


Hambach Castle. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The castle as it is seen today was not originally called Hambach Castle—it was called Kastenburg (or roughly translated in the Palatinate dialect as the Chestnut Castle) in honor of the chestnut forests surrounding the castle’s location in the Forest of the Palatinate. Initially constructed in the early 11th century, the castle’s early history is relatively unknown. Nevertheless, the castle was signed over to the Bishopric of Speyer in the early 12th century, where it remained as the bishop’s base of operations until 1797 (when it became property of the French government). By that time the castle had survived the Thirty Year’s War relatively intact, but had been more or less destroyed by French troops in the Palatinate War of the Succession. It was returned back to German ownership in 1816, to the Hambach territory in the Kingdom of Bavaria (hence the name).

The castle played an important part in the formation of German democracy at the 1832 Hambacher Fest, where the very first German national flag was flown.

Hambacher Fest and the First Flag


Procession of the Hambach Festival. – partially colored pen and ink drawing from 1832. The flags depict the then chosen German national colors Gold-Red-Black-, the reverse of the modern German flag.

While the area of Hambach Castle passed back-and-forth between French and German control, the people of the area struggled under heavy taxes and extreme censorship. Democracy and freedom of speech were banned by the state, as were political gatherings such as protests or demonstrations. In order to circumvent these restrictions, a “Hambach Festival” was advertised in the area, and on May 27th, 1832 about 30,000 people from all social classes (including women) marched up to Hambach Castle. The Festival featured impassioned speeches that called for German national unity, popular sovereignty, more civil and political rights, and liberty. The first flags in Germany to utilize the colors of black, red, and gold— which would later become the national flag and national colors of Germany—were also flown.

What do the colors of the National German flag represent?


Banner of the Holy Roman Empire, as used from 1400 until 1806. This is just one variation of the banner used by the Holy Roman Empire. Imag via Wikimedia Commons

The colors of the modern German national flag feature prominently in German history. The earliest historical account of these colors being used on a flag came from the imperial coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was a vast, German-majority and multi-ethnic kingdom that dominated central Europe from 962 AD to the year 1806—that’s almost 1,000 years of power! The colors featured on the coat of arms were used to depict a black eagle with two heads, with red talons on a golden background, and it was said that these colors were chosen to reflect the power and influence of the Holy Roman Empire.

For the modern National Flag of Germany, however, the three colors have very particular meanings. Black was said to symbolize the dignity and determination of the German people. Red was said to symbolize bravery, strength and valor. The color of gold historically represented wealth, power, and prestige. However, some stipulate that the colors represent a valiant group of volunteers who fought in the Napoleanic Wars. It’s no wonder then that this positive variation of the National German flag has appeared multiple times in Germany’s long history!

Variations of the German National Flag


War flag of the German Confederation (1848–1852). Image via Wikimedia Commons

The German National Flag known as the Bundesflagge (boon-dess-flah-geh) or Federal Flag made its first formal appearance in 1848 as the de facto flag of the German Confederation (1815- 1866) and the Prussian German Empire. The war flag or Seekriegsflagge (see-kreegs-flah-geh) during this time period incorporated a double-headed eagle reminiscent of the coat of arms from the Holy Roman Empire.


State Flag, used from 1921-1933. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Overtaken by the black, white and red flag of the German Empire of Prussia, the Bundesflagge would not be seen again until the Weimar Republic formed in 1919. While the national flag and its color scheme was back in style, the Dienstflagge zu Land (deenst-flah-geh zoo land) or State Flag was the first to have the eagle emblem in the center of the flag from 1921 to the end of Weimar Republic in 1933.


Flag of East Germany from 1949-1990. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

After the fall of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich at the end of World War II, Germany was divided between the Western Allied victors (Great Britain, France, and the United States) and the Soviet Union. The combined sections that were run by the Western powers became known as “Federal Republic of Germany” – or West Germany, and the side controlled by the Soviet Union became known as the “German Democratic Republic”— or East Germany. The national flag of East Germany looked very similar to the national flag of Germany that was adopted in 1949, but with a coat of arms in the center that featured communist symbolism such as a compass, hammer and golden wheat.

The flag of Western Germany (that was adopted in 1949) is the same flag that flies today over Germany today, now a symbol of German strength, history and reunification. [Caira Spenrath, edited by Jennifer McPhail]


Modern flag of Germany. Image via Wikimedia Commons

 Additional Resources:
Coy, Jason Philip, Benjamin Marschke, and David Warren Sabean. 2010. The Holy Roman Empire, reconsidered. New York: Berghahn Books.

Feinstein, Margarete Myers. 2001. State symbols: the quest for legitimacy in the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, 1949-1959. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Fulbrook, Mary. 1990. A concise history of Germany. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press.

Heinz, Karl, Heike Schöneberger-Schade, and Horst Grittner. 1986. Hambach Castle: history, architecture, significance. Neustadt/Weinstrasse [Germany]: Meininger.

Wilson, Peter H. 1999. The Holy Roman Empire, 1495-1806. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Sneak Peek

We are in the final stretch of installing the new Los Tejanos exhibit for it’s big opening gala tonight. This exhibit explores the Tejano experience. It offering a glimpse of compelling Tejano stories from the early 18th century to the present day. It officially opens to the public tomorrow, but you can get a sneak peek of our progress below.

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Object: Marbles

I-0295h (1)
American (likely)
Unknown date, likely 20th century
Materials: Glass

Marbles are one of the oldest games. It’s a game that has taken on various names and rules across the globe, but one thing remained the same, their shape and sizes. This object is a set of eleven glass marbles, ranging in color from brown to green through orange and purple. Marbles can be used in a variety of games. Marble games teach patience, tactic and skill.

Rome, Italy has some of the earliest evidence of marbles. These early Roman marbles were made of clay or stone. One game the Roman children played with marbles involved building a castle or pyramid out of nuts to which they would then launch the marbles at it until it came tumbling down. Another game, more like what we see played today, was to create a triangle or a square on the ground and try to get as many of your marbles into it as possible. Other early evidence of marbles has been found in Egypt. Archaeologist unearthed similarly shaped clay spheres in Egyptian children’s tombs. These buried keepsakes were placed in the tomb for the children to have in the afterlife.


Boys playing marbles circa 1870s. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Marbles are played with across the globe and have been made of many materials: glass, porcelain, clay, stone, even wood. As glass and porcelain marbles started to be made they were collected and played by the wealthy. The time and skill needed to hand-make the glass and porcelain marbles was costly. It was not until the 1840s that Germany began to mass-produce glass marbles. It was several years later, in the 1880s that the United States started to mass-produce as well. So instead of a few skilled craftsmen making a handful of glass marbles, there were factories with machines producing thousands of marbles at a time. Samuel C. Dyke owned one of the United States first toy companies to begin mass-producing marbles, the American Marble & Toy Manufacturing Company. This marble manufacturing company opened the door for many other companies, just after the peak of the industrial revolution, to a niche market in children’s toys. Marbles are now a game for anyone, of any age or class around the world.

The following video shows how marbles are manufactured and hand made:
Video –How it’s made


Marbles has been enjoyed for generations. Image via BBC

Yet, marble games are not just for children. With time the rules and regulations became more extravagant and the avid players continued to play and perfect their skills at the game they loved even after childhood. The World Marbles Federation manages the international rules and regulations for the official game of marbles and hosts the world marble championship. There are three types of official marble games you can play: classical, short and extended. Each game needs at least ten marbles and they cannot be made of metal. The most common marble materials today are glass and porcelain.

Players must use different colors than one another to avoid confusion during the game. To decide who goes first, instead of flipping a coin, players have a ‘throw-up’. This is when players flick their marble toward the center hole of the playing ground and the one who comes closer to the hole wins the throw-up. The playing ground starts with a hole 3.5-4.5 inches in diameter and at least 2 inches deep. Then there is a circle around the hole called the throwing line, this line is at 3 feet away from the hole all the way around. The championship game uses a large playing space and is highly regulated, but for a friendly game at school or home check out some short fun games of marbles here. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Carlisle, Rodney P. 2009. Encyclopedia of play in today’s society. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Gartley, Richard, and Jeff Carskadden. 1900. Colonial period and early 19th century children’s toy marbles: history and identifications for the archaeologist and collector. Zanesville, Ohio: Muskingum Valley Archeological Survey.

Randall, Mark E. (1971). Early Marbles. Historical Archaeology
Published by: Society for Historical Archaeology. Vol. 5, (1971) , pp. 102-105.

Six, Dean, Susie Metzler, and Michael Johnson. 2006. American machine-made marbles: marble bags, boxes and history. Atglen, PA: Schiffer.

Wilson, J. (1990). Marbles Champions: A Report from the American South. New England Review (1990-) . Published by: Middlebury College Publications. Vol. 19, No. 1 (Winter, 1998) , pp. 166-186.

Object: Obi

Date unknown, likely 20th century
Materials: Cloth

What is an ‘obi’?

This item is an obi (oh-bee), a large sash used in traditional Japanese clothing for women. The obi functions as the tie used to keep traditional Japanese robes, known as kimono (kee-moh-no) secured in place. The obi is wrapped around the woman’s waist over the kimono and is tied in a large knot behind her back. The general Japanese word for this knot is musubi (moo-sue-bee), but there are many different names for the different shapes and ways the obi can be tied.

Obi come in various sizes, shapes, colors, and material depending on the type of kimono worn or the complexity of the knot the obi will be tied in. More formal obi, for formal kimono, are often made of luxury materials such silk or brocade, and tend to be more decorative to match the kimono. More informal obi that are used with everyday kimono, known as yukata (you-kah-tah), are often made with cotton, polyester, or less expensive materials. These kinds of obi are usually plainer in design. In traditional Japanese culture, men who wear yukata for relaxation also wear obi— but these obi are usually much smaller, darker in color, and less ornate than the women’s version.

What are the different types of obi? How are they tied?

In Japanese culture, there are many different types of obi for different occasions. The length of an obi can indicate what kind of kimono it can be worn with, the type of knot it can be tied in, the age of the wearer, and even the event that the wearer is going to.

There are five different lengths of obi that are the most used and commonly recognized today.


How a Maru Obi looks when worn. Image via leolaksi.wordpress.com

From formal to informal, the first one is called the maru obi, and it is the most formal. Maru obi can be up to 15 feet long! Because they are so big, they are often only used for tying the largest, most ornate knots such as those used for brides in a Japanese wedding ceremony (which are covered) or for traditional performing artists known as geisha (gay-sha). 

The most popularly used formal obi today is the fukuro (hoo-koo-ro) obi. At 15 feet long it matches the maru obi in length, but is often less decorative and usually only used by younger, unmarried women for special occasions such as the Coming of Age Day at age 20. The fukuro obi is most often worn with the furisode (hoo-ree-soh-day) kimono, which is characterized by its long sleeves. The fukuro obi is often tied in the tateya (tah-tay-yah) musubi style to resemble the wings of a sparrow.

How To Tie the Tateya Knot for Furisode Kimon:


Two women climbing temple stairs in kimono and taiko musubi. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The semi-formal nagoya (nah-go-yah) obi is the most used obi in modern Japan. It was invented in the 1920’s by a young woman in Nagoya, Japan and is named after the city. It’s about 10.5 feet in length with a very distinguishable pattern: one half of the obi is less wide than the other! This gives the nagoya obi more flexibility, which allows the wearer to create many informal and semi-formal knots. The most famous knot tied with the nagoya obi is the taiko (tai-koh) musubi, which translates into the drum knot.

The informal obi known as the hanhaba (hahn-hah-bah) obi is most often worn with the informal kimono known as yukata. They are usually thin and made out of more common fabric, but come in large, stylized patterns and can be tied in various ways. The most popular knot for a hanhaba obi is the chouchou (choh-oo-choh-oo) musubi which looks like a butterfly.


Tsuke obi or the work of a master? It can be hard to tell! Image from hanamiweb.com

Lastly, the shortest obi is the tsuke (soo-kay) obi also known as the ready-tied obi. These obi are the shortest because they only give the appearance of a full obi without the work of tying a full-length obi and knot. Depending on the fabric of the obi, and the pre-tied knot, the tsuke obi can be formal or informal. Today, many of the more intricate obi knots are pre-tied in stores and sold as separate pieces of the obi itself – this is because many Japanese people today don’t wear kimono as a regular part of life. This means that pre-tied obi or a more knowledgeable person (such as a professional kimono stylist or older member of the family) are the few options for people who want to wear more sophisticated obi styles.

Are obi expensive?

Obi can be even more expensive than the kimono they’re paired with. The price of the kimono and its obi depend on the material, age, quality and style of the clothing. While traditional, vintage kimono can be as expensive as cars (around $20,000 USD), obi can be equally expensive. Today, a modern formal kimono can cost as little as $100 USD. Formal obi, on the other hand, can cost three times that amount.

However, despite these costs, obi are an important part of traditional Japanese clothing that continue to illustrate the colorful heritage of Japan. [Caira Spenrath, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Kimono: history and style. 2012. Tokyo: PIE.

Milhaupt, Terry Satsuki. 2014. Kimono: a modern history.  

Perez, Louis G. 2009. The history of Japan. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Slade, Toby. 2010. Japanese fashion: a cultural history. Oxford: Berg.

Thompson, Christopher, and John W. Traphagan. 2006. Wearing cultural styles in Japan: concepts of tradition and modernity in practice. Albany: State University of New York Press.


Object: Hat

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United Kingdom: Wales
ca 1840
Materials: Cloth, felt


Map of Wales. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Wales is a country in Europe right next to England, on the southwest side of the island of Great Britain. Wales is home to the Welsh. Cardiff is the capital and largest city in Wales with just over 1,000,000 people living there. The official languages of Wales are English and Welsh, but by the 1990s only 25% of the population spoke Welsh. In certain areas of the country you may see large communities predominately speaking Welsh but, as the official language of the country it is being used less and less.

The tall black Welsh top hat has become part of the traditional image of Welsh women’s dress, but how traditional is it? The tall felt top hat has become iconic. When something is iconic it means that it is widely known or recognized, like the big golden arches of McDonald’s. Long red plaid skirts, top hats and shawls were thought to be outfits commonly worn by workingwomen in the countryside. Their top hats stood out, as they were more commonly seen on men, but the Welsh women wore them too, as costumes. That’s right, this national dress worn in the image to the right, is a costume.


Women in traditional Welsh dress. Image via National Museum Wales.

During the early 19th Century a dignitary’s wife by the name of Lady Llanover began to devote her time and efforts to maintaining and developing Welsh tradition. These efforts included inventing and illustrating “Welsh costumes” for many regions of Wales. It is said that all those who worked at or visited her home were required to wear the Welsh costume. Lady Llanover was on a mission to preserve Welsh literature, art and language. Building an iconic Welsh costume developed an identity that would be recognized internationally for many years to come.

There is a special day each year where you might find some Welsh women out in their national costumes and that is on St. David’s Day, a well-celebrated holiday in Wales. Saint David set off in his younger years on a pilgrimage, and made his way from Wales all the way to Jerusalem. After his return to Wales he was recognized as a great religious leader, spreading the Gospel to many of the Welsh. In 1120 the Catholic Church officially recognized him as a saint, and thus Wales established St. David’s Day. The Welsh celebrate his life and his message on March 1st each year.

Lady Llanover’s mission to build up Welsh tradition and preserve art, literature and language was a success. Wales hosts an annual festival to honor and showcase Welsh literature, music, dance and theater. This festival is known as Eisteddfodau (Eisteddafod). It is the only other time of the year where you might commonly spot a woman out in her top hat. You can see a full English listing of events and exhibitions on the National Eisteddfod of Wales website here. The preservation of culture and language is a significant undertaking for many nations of the world today. It takes an entire, community, nation, country and really the world to help maintain the culture of a people.

The folk image that the Welsh maintain, and that Lady Llanover made iconic, was one of the many ways the Welsh chose to preserve their culture. Folklife is a shared group identity, this identity can be based around something as simple as a costume or it can be centered on a shared saying or expression, like our National Anthem. The Eisteddfodau festival showcases Welsh folklife through performances, galleries, food and more. It is about what the Welsh, as a group, believe, do, know, make and say. The Institute of Texan Cultures celebrates the cultural identities of many different immigrant groups at its annual Texas Folklife Festival, a festival to educate and intrigue many about the various cultures that built Texas and its identity. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Etheridge, Ken. 1958. Welsh costume. [Ammanford, Wales]: [The author].

Object: Cabin

Sharecropper’s Cabin
African American
United States of America
Early 20th Century (1900)
Materials: Wood, Newspaper, Tin

This artifact at the Institute of Texan Cultures is a sharecropper’s cabin. Constructed out of simple materials around 1900, the cabin most likely served as a residence for a tenant farmer and his or her family. It’s a simple home with two rooms, windows with no glass, a tin roof and a front porch. While in the past it was someone’s home, today it stands as an example of a practice that flourished in the American South for decades.

What is sharecropping?


Sharecroppers in Georgia 1888. Image via britannica.com

Sharecropping is an agricultural system where a landowner allows a farm worker (also known as a tenant farmer) to rent and use the land in exchange for a share of the expected crop production. This system of agriculture became a standard in the American South after the American Civil War. The large, newly freed African American population, were suddenly in need of employment and landowners (often former plantation-owners) were in need of employees to farm their lands.

In the Reconstruction Era that followed the American Civil War, many freedmen and their families migrated into the northern United States and Canada in hope of a better life. However, for those who remained in the South, the business of rebuilding after a devastating war was fraught with uncertainty. Usually unable to read or write, many former slaves chose to return to the work that they had practiced before the Civil War—manual labor in agriculture—in order to provide for themselves and their families.


Diagram of Sharecropper Cycle. Image via pixgood.com

How does sharecropping work?

A landowner or landlord and the tenant farmer come to an agreement. The landowner allows the farmer to work and grow crops—usually cotton— on their property, and in exchange the landowner claims a portion of the crop that has been produced (usually a third or half of the yearly yield). For their hard work, the tenant farmer would usually be able to live on the property and receive their own portion of the crop for their use as they saw fit. The landowner provides the tenant farmer with initial supplies: seeds, farming equipment such as a plow, etc. The farmer tends to the fields, and at the end of the year the crop is divided between the two parties.

This system doesn’t sound like a bad deal! Is it fair?

While the system sounds fair, in a majority of cases the tenant farmers were at a large disadvantage. Landowners often took advantage of the tenant farmers in various ways. One popular method involved providing the necessary agricultural supplies at a cost to the farmer. If the farmer could not afford to pay for the start-up supplies, they were given on a line of credit with high interest rates. At the end of the year, the landowners would not only take their portion of the crops but also collect on the interest. If the interest was very high and the tenant farmer could not pay it back, he had to work extra hard to cover the costs for years to come. This often trapped the tenant farmer in a cycle of poverty as they worked to pay the landowner back. Sharecroppers of all races and backgrounds were at the mercy of the landowner. Sometimes, the tenant farmers even had to pay rent on the homes they lived in― this sharecropper’s cabin at the Institute of Texan Cultures reflects one of the many styles of housing used as a sharecropper’s home.

Was sharecropping a big deal in Texas?

ghost town

Abandoned Home near Novasota, Texas featured in the Novasota Current.

After the American Civil War, many recently freed men migrated to Texas hoping to settle their own land. With the majority of its farmland intact, Texas became the de facto leader in cotton production of the United States. East Texas had a very good climate for cotton and by the turn of the 20th century some figures estimate that Texas cotton produced almost one third of America’s cotton supply. To meet the employment needs, many African Americans and Hispanic Americans flocked to the East Texas area where cotton production was at its peak.

In the 1920’s, four brothers named Clarence, Steve, Tom and Harry Moore bought land near the Navasota area slightly north of Houston, Texas. In the process of constructing a thriving cotton business, the Moore brothers used a sharecropping system that employed African Americans, prison labor, and even German prisoners of war during World War II. After years of successful operations, Thomas Moore donated the cabin to the Institute of Texan Cultures and it was moved to its current location in 1979. Though it’s unknown as to whether the Moore Brothers constructed the cabin or if the cabin came with the property when they purchased it, this little house stands today as a testament to a large chapter in American agricultural history. [Caira Spenrath, Edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Byres, Terence J. 1983. Sharecropping and sharecroppers. London [etc.]: Frank Cass.

Conrad, David Eugene. 1965. The forgotten farmers; the story of sharecroppers in the New Deal. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Hanania, Denisa Nickell. 2013. The sharecroppers.

Wilkison, Kyle Grant. 2008. Yeomen, sharecroppers, and Socialists: plain folk protest in Texas, 1870-1914. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Photo Quiz

The answer to last month’s quiz is…a prayer bench!

I-0146a (6)

Can you guess what this is?

I-0392i Photo quiz










We’ll post the answer on May 20th. Good luck!


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