Monday, February 18, 2008

Bob Bullock Museum

Given that Texas oil history (mostly pre-J.R. Ewing) exhibits dominate the third floor and roughly 1/5 of the museum, one comes away with the sense that oil has had a "slight" impact on the state since Spindletop burst onto the scene in 1901. Of particular interest (to me anyway) was the practically overnight (a) transformation of Texas's economy from mostly agricultural to mostly manufacturing and (b) population surge, doubling and tripling the size of some towns. (Scenes from "There Will Be Blood" surely came to mind.) Not to mention that some of Texas's larger-than-life political titans -- LBJ, Gov. Jim Hogg, Jesse Jones -- have all had ties to big oil.

Today, of course, we see a continuation of trends set in motion by big oil -- immigration/population diversity, heavy industrial presence, shipping channel trade, etc. -- over 100 years since Spindletop. A prime microcosmic example of these modern-day demographic and economic trends can be witnessed in Houston, a town that big oil practically made. (For details, see Rice University professor Stephen Klineberg's defining Houston Area Survey.)

I came away from the museum exhibit wondering what Texas would look like today if oil fields never existed beneath its plains. (New Mexico? Louisiana? Montana of the South?) Despite misgivings about this infernal fossil fuel, I doubt the Lone Star State would be as interesting or have as rich and colorful of a history without "that old black magic."

1 comment:

Stephanie Freeman said...

I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed by the oil exhibit at the Bob Bullock Museum. I went into the museum knowing the general history of oil in Texas (lived in Texas as a kid, worked for an oil company before, saw “There Will Be Blood”, etc) and I felt that the exhibit didn’t elaborate on my knowledge very much. I would have appreciated some more interesting stories or data about how the boom affected all areas of life.

I guess I expected an exhibit in the capital city of Texas dedicated to oil to be a bit more than two rooms and a few videos playing in a loop. I’ve been to a few oil and gas related exhibits and museums in Houston, namely the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum, and was a lot more impressed. I guess this is due to the fact that despite being the capital of Texas, Austin itself doesn’t have nearly the oil-rich history of Houston, or even Dallas.

No one can deny the impact of the oil and gas industry in the state of Texas. I agree with Ross that the Texas wouldn’t be the same without ‘black gold’ filling its history with power, money, and prosperity.