Teaching American History in Sharpstown: Q&A with Dr. Chris Hammons, Director of HCU's Independence Hall

Teaching American History in Sharpstown: Q&A with Dr. Chris Hammons, Director of HCU's Independence Hall
The Morris Family Center for Law and Liberty (a.k.a. Independence Hall) on the campus of HCU in Sharpstown. Image Credit: Tyess Korsmo

Some Houston Christian University students have no idea what the new building on their campus is. In a way, that's why it was built.

Sharpstown's HCU isn't the first organization to build a full-scale replica of Independence Hall, but it's the only one in Houston. HCU's Center for Law and Liberty, which offers free audio tours, is modeled on the Philadelphia building where America's founders signed the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

The masterminds behind HCU’s Independence Hall are Dr. Chris Hammons, director of the Law and Liberty Center, and Eleanor Barton, director of historical museums. Sharpener reporter Kirsten Passmore interviewed Dr. Hammons about the audio tour, which he and Barton created last fall.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of the audio tour?

A. It fills a void where people who were visiting the campus before and visiting the building (unless I was over there)…would kind of wander around the building by themselves.

There was no informational content, and we toyed with putting printed information on the walls, but we didn’t want to...make it look like a museum or junk the place up with a lot of graphics and text. So we decided to do an audio tour, which allows people to wander through the rooms at their own pace.

Q: Which sections did you record?

A: I wrote all the curriculum...all the verbiage. And it’s based off of the tours I typically give in person.

If there were portraits that we were describing, I did all the male portraits, and Eleanor did all the female portraits. So they have a male and female voice, and other than that, we just kind of divided up the rooms…

We had originally thought about the idea of having students come and record it. But we were concerned that if we had errors or things to fix, then we would have to track the students down and it would become a big logistical hassle. So she and I did it, and we did have to go back and re-record some stuff that just didn’t sound good, or the audio was not right, so I’m glad we did that.

Q: I’ve noticed some students aren’t as enthusiastic about American history. So if I’m just trying to get into American history, what should I take away from Independence Hall?

A: A couple things I’ve noticed... Sometimes students don’t even know what it is they are looking at. And they’ll walk in the building and they’ll say, "What is this supposed to be?"

This highlights to me the real need for our mission through the Morris Family Center for Law and Liberty, and that is to educate young people...about our history and our nation’s founding principles...

If you don’t even recognize Independence Hall, that tells me there’s been a gap in your education…

Part of [the goal of education] is to understand why Independence Hall is significant as the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution... The other part is to explore the principles that come out of those documents and why they are important.

Kirsten Passmore is studying Political Science at HCU. Below, she reflects on her experience with Independence Hall.

Dr. Hammons announced that we were going on a field trip on my last day of class. I knew where we were headed: the Assembly Room, where the Founding Fathers gathered to discuss and sign the Declaration and Constitution.

It was also where my class would finish discussing the Federalist Papers. Walking in, I imagined myself as a Founding Father debating whether to ratify the Constitution.

Dr. Hammons shared that “after fifteen years of fundraising...all over city, and the state, and the nation, [Independence Hall] opened last year and was funded by donors... This was all a gift to the university. And we want to use it to teach American history, American government, and law. We use it for tourists—for groups that come in and want a history discussion…”

Elementary and high-school groups from Austin and San Antonio have also come to visit and learn. Independence Hall is one of the things that make Houston Christian University unique.

Conflict of Interest Statement: Kirsten Passmore is a student at HCU and an advisee of Dr. Chris Hammons. Tyess Korsmo is an alumnus of HCU and has taught English there for five semesters.

To hear from Eleanor Barton, check out the Southwest Management District's recent article about the Law and Liberty Center.


Kirsten Passmore, reporter
Kirsten Passmore is a senior studying political science at Houston Christian University. She enjoys volunteering, spending time with friends, and playing adaptive sports in her spare time. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy (as a result of a brain injury at birth), she uses an electric wheelchair. In 2013, she was Little
Tyess Korsmo, editor-in-chief
A North Dakota farm boy, Tyess moved to Sharpstown in 2019 to earn his Master of Liberal Arts at Houston Christian University (formerly Houston Baptist), where he now teaches English and history. He also teaches English for the Heart of Texas Foundation College of Ministry, located in a maximum-security prison.