Today marks the first day on the job of our new director, Jeff Pirtle! We put together a short Q&A to help our readers get to know a little more about Jeff, his Texas roots, and his vision for the next phase of The Texas Collection’s service to Baylor and beyond.
Tell us about your background growing up in Texas
Going way back, my paternal grandfather and a couple generations before him were all from Fannin County and Bonham, Texas. Both my parents are from Levelland, Texas and I was born and raised in Amarillo. Some of my favorite childhood memories include trips to Palo Duro Canyon, church camp at Ceta Canyon and summer trips to DFW for Six Flags and Ranger games. I’m a graduate of Amarillo High School, then went to Texas Tech where I earned a BA in History and an MA in Museum Science.
What are some highlights of your pre-Baylor career?
By working as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech’s Southwest Collection / Special Collections Library, I was selected as a graduate intern with the Getty Research Institute’s Conservation Lab in Los Angeles. That experience really set my career in motion, getting the opportunity to work at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, then as the Museum Manager and Corporate Archivist at JCPenney’s corporate headquarters in Plano. Helping with JCPenney’s 100th anniversary in 2002 was definitely a highlight of my time there. Then after that centennial celebration, I accepted a position back in Los Angeles working for Universal Studios and NBCUniversal where I’ve been the last 20 years. The 100th anniversary of Universal Pictures in 2012 was a highlight of my tenure there. Of course, working at a movie studio brought some fun projects – like helping Kirk Douglas write a book about the making of Spartacus, co-curating an exhibit about Universal at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and participating in interviews with national media outlets.
What are some of the big things you want to tackle in your early days at The Texas Collection?
With my experience in celebrating 100th anniversaries, one of the first things I want to tackle is the upcoming 100th anniversary of The Texas Collection in June 2023! It’s a great opportunity to amplify The Texas Collection and I can’t wait to hit the ground running on that. I’m also really looking forward to working with all the professionals at The Texas Collection, learning about the workflow processes and procedures and learning about areas in which The Texas Collection can grow.
How do you see The Texas Collection supporting the ways we teach Texas history?
History is a complex subject, and I hope The Texas Collection can support those who teach history by helping to clearly understand and communicate all the complexities. It’s important that students know all humans – even those revered in history – have their faults and shortcomings, and I hope The Texas Collection helps teachers provide all sides of history.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) are a major focus for the Libraries’ leadership team. How will you approach DEI as director of The Texas Collection?
One aspect I love about working in archival collections is when a researcher identifies with and becomes passionate about material they’ve discovered. Content that really resonates with them. The researcher may find a person in history with which they share talents and abilities, they may find primary source material from a historic event they heard about from relatives, or learn more about a painful historic happening that will hopefully never be repeated. In order to provide the content that resonates with each individual researcher, it’s important for The Texas Collection to have that material available. I look forward to prioritizing processing of underrepresented collections and expanding the collection to be more representative with all researchers. I want all our researchers to find collections they identify with and can be passionate about.
What’s your favorite piece of Texana, Texas lore, or Texas culture?
Outside of Tex-Mex, BBQ and college football, as a Panhandle guy I’ve recently come to appreciate the history of the High Plains. The vast ranch lands, the cattle drives of Charles Goodnight, the Comanches and Quanah Parker are all of great interest. I’m also really looking forward to diving into the histories of Baylor and Waco as soon as I get started!
Anything else you’d like us to know?
Fun Fact – the summer after I completed my graduate coursework in Museum Science and was awaiting my Getty Research Institute internship to start, I worked as a bartender and server at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo… home of the free 72 oz. steak dinner (if eaten in one hour)!