Travis Franks Speaks on Legacy and Time at Sam

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Sam Houston State and McNair Scholars Program Alumnus Travis Franks visited campus on Wednesday, February 8, to share about his Fulbright scholarship grant to Queensland, Australia and the research he will be conducting there.

Franks received his bachelors and master’s degrees at SHSU and he is currently at Arizona State University in the pursuance of a doctorate degree in English.

The Fulbright Program gives grants for international educational exchange with the purpose of cross-cultural teaching and research. Franks will be working with a museum in a small town of about 700 people called Texas, Queensland Australia. He will be helping research and rewrite the town’s history, specifically through music.

“This project really started with a google search.” Franks said. “The outback culture of Australia is a lot like our Texas frontier. and there are a lot of myths that are similar. I googled a comparative study on Texas and Australia, and I found a YouTube video called Better in Texas with some kids singing about spirit of Texas, unity, and loving the land. I realized this is an amazing opportunity to use the stuff that I care about from having grown up from Texas, USA.”

After seeing this, Franks got in contact the museum in Texas, Australia and asked if he could help with research and writing their history. The researchers at the museum told Franks that they have material which argues that the settlement information they have published is not accurate, and they want to rewrite the history of Texas, Queensland.

“I can be a participant in rewriting this history, but all of my training tells me to be careful because history doesn’t begin with settlement, there was another culture there first. So, I don’t want to go over there and make the same mistake.” Franks said.

Dr. Eugene Young, Professor for the department of English, was one of Frank’s professors during his undergraduate years at SHSU.

“His first semester he was in my American Literature Survey class, and I knew right away we had someone special.” Young said. “He’s incredibly inquisitive. When most of us study things in class and take notes, and move on to the next thing, he wanted to open another door and study it further in ways I never thought of.”

While taking Young’s class Texas Crossroads, Franks began to develop an interest in researching the history of Texas.

“At the heart of this class is intersections between stories we hear and mythology. Like the Alamo is part true and part myth. He became more and more interested in looking at Nativism and how Native Americans are excluded from our national story.” Young said. “He had a lot of questions to which I had no answer. And when I said “I’ll work on it, and see what I can find,” he said ‘It’s okay, I will.’ And he would!”

When Frank became a master’s student at SHSU, he took a class on Native American Literature.

“Our professor asked how many of us had Native American ancestors, and we all raised our hand. Then he asked how many of us knew anything about those ancestors like a name or what tribe they belong to, and none of us knew. I later asked him if I could write my research paper on my family history, to try and find out if my family had a native ancestry.”

The next semester that professor began a research project and he asked Franks to be his research assistant. They found a tombstone in the Huntsville Joe Byrd cemetery where a Native American Chief was buried. They went to Oklahoma to find out what his story was.

Franks ended up writing his master’s thesis on representations of indigenous people in Texas.

“I spent several years in Huntsville and didn’t know about that history. That grave was less than a mile away from the classrooms I was sitting in. It was about looking at myself and the places around me differently.” Franks said.

In his study of Settler Colonialism, he discovered the way that indigenous people have been dispossessed of their lands.

“Over the generations that’s not a story that you can tell and be proud of as settler’s descendants. So, my interest now is how that story gets produced and reproduced so that pioneers have this rugged individualism that they outlasted the elements and made it work against all odds.” Franks said.

During his presentation Wednesday, Franks pointed out to the students the bumper stickers that say “Native Texan”.

“What does that mean when it’s someone who looks like me? A white guy with that bumper sticker with no sense of irony that there are native peoples in Texas. I want to push back on those ideas that we can call ourselves native because it erases part of our story, the difficult parts that we don’t want to talk about.” Franks said.

Frank’s presentation was organized by the McNair program that he was a part of as a student. The McNair program is a federal grant that prepares students for PHD studies.

“The reason that a lot of this was possible is because I was a McNair student while I was at Sam Houston. I wouldn’t have gotten my master’s, been in a PHD program, or gotten a Fulbright without the McNair program.” Franks said.

Dr. Lydia Fox, the Director of the McNair program got to oversee the work Franks was doing when he was a student 8 years ago.

“It’s very rewarding for me to see him go on to get his PHD and even more rewarding to see him get a Fulbright.” Fox said. “We were very proud to have Travis back to speak to the Sam community, but also to McNair scholars to motivate them that they can do similar things. They can go on to get PHDs and become Fulbright scholars.”