Photo: Students work with artifacts in Virginia City lab during field school last May. (Photo courtesy of Rob McCoy).
 
The rush is on. WSU history students have found a lode of educational prospects in the old west mining town of Virginia City, Mont. And their find has prompted architecture professors to tentatively consider a summer course there for their students, too.

“Our first field school was very successful and fruitful for the students and the Montana Heritage Commission,” said Rob McCoy, assistant professor of history. (See related article ONLINE @ www.wsutoday.wsu.edu, then search “Virginia City”) 

The commission is the state entity charged with maintaining and running the sites at historic Virginia City and nearby Nevada City. Staff provided instruction, lodging and work for the students during the three-week field school. And it is working with Phil Gruen, assistant professor, School of Architecture and Construction Management, and others in architecture to help them stake a claim on the research possibilities, as well.

Tentative plans are for an elective class of perhaps 10 architecture students to start developing a document of design guidelines. The ultimate goal would be for the heritage commission to use the guidelines in working with donors, consultants and contractors to build a visitor/education/conference/curatorial center in Virginia City.

“Students would get to work on the nuts and bolts of a real project in terms of predesign,” Gruen said. This would include planning, context, climate, soil conditions, economic factors and more.

“Student exposure to the complications between city, county, state, private donors, funding, planning, etc., would help them see how difficult the process can be,” he said.

Students would spend some days in Virginia City, then complete work on the six-week course on the Pullman campus. Gruen said he expects students to get a good start on the guidelines document, but it would likely take another summer to complete. Classes in subsequent years might begin considering issues of design, he said.

“As a potentially buildable project, we could eventually incorporate construction management students to address issues of cost, materials and timeline,” Gruen said.

Although the authorization and specifics have yet to be worked out, “this could potentially be a four- or five-year project,” he said.

Meanwhile, the public history field school is funded for two years but is meant to become self-sustaining, McCoy said. For that, it must attract students from other universities, as well as WSU, who can pay for tuition, fees and travel. The history department is working to recruit those students in order to keep the field school going after May 2008.
The 2007 experience offered students hands-on public history training in areas such as museum curation, historic building stabilization, historic archaeology and cultural landscape assessment. 

The 2008 school will be held during the three weeks between WSU commencement and Memorial Day. The architecture students will plan to be there during that time so they can collaborate with the history students, Gruen said.
“We are working to provide a relevant education for all of these students,” he said.