Written by Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat February 11, 2009
A renowned Mark Twain expert and his students will help the Angels Camp museum give a better account of the man who put the town on the worldwide map.
Gregg Camfield, a professor at the University of California, Merced, has researched the famed author extensively. Camfield has agreed to enlist the help of students in his Mark Twain class to create and curate an exhibit on the man who might have been just as much a character as the characters he created.
The professor and 16 students attended a reception at the museum Sunday to kick off their endeavor.
“A museum is living. If we do it right, this will keep changing…and evolving. We could keep mining this material for a very long time,” Camfield said of the future exhibit. “This has been the Mother Lode’s attic for over a century.”
The proposed exhibit will include digitized collections to “give the aficionados who want to get deep into it” a lot to work with, he said.
The connection to spark the project was made when Camfield’s mother, a Sonora resident, “bumped into” museum foundation director Clea Lynch and they got to talking about the need for an improved exhibit and Camfield’s body of Twain research, he said.
“It got back to (Museum Director) Bob (Rogers). He called me. I said I was interested,” Camfield said.
The class had just finished reading some of Twain’s earliest works before coming to the museum.
One of the students will work on researching grant possibilities from public and private resources to assist with the project.
Camfield is excited about coaxing out the stories that longtime local residents have to tell about Twain and other local history while the opportunity is still available.
“There are human resources here in Angels Camp but we’re going to lose them if we’re not talking to them very soon,” he said.
Students Amber Kirby and Demitra Borrero, both juniors in Camfield’s class, will return to Angels Camp throughout the semester to collect those tales.
Already at a coffee shop Sunday, Borrero was impressed by the helpful and friendly nature of a coffee shop owner who took them right to the doorstep of a local historian upon hearing of their task.
“We’re looking forward to hearing a lot more about the area,” Borrero said.
Kirby had already gained more insight about Twain’s disdain for the Roosevelts early into her visit, with his antipathy toward Theodore Roosevelt well documented, but learning more about his nephew Franklin’s role in shutting down gold mining decades after Twain’s death with the start of World War II.
She said the best part of their research will be, after reading much of what Twain had to say about the Mother Lode, “hearing what this town has to say about Mark Twain.”
“This is a great opportunity (for students) to put research to work,” Camfield said.
Contact Sean Janssen at email@example.com