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Andrew Isenberg's book, Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life

A program that explored the myths surrounding Wyatt Earp served as an important American culture and language experience for a group of international students enrolled in SMU's Intensive English Program (IEP).

Historian Andrew Isenberg, author of Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life, talked about the legendary figure at an event October 8 co-sponsored by the Clements Center for Southwest Studies in Dedman College, Friends of the SMU Libraries and DeGolyer Library.

Mary Cates and Rebecca Lommel, IEP lecturers, decided the event would provide the ideal platform for a multidimensional discussion about heroes in history, as well as an opportunity for students to strengthen their English vocabulary and listening skills in an informal academic setting.

In preparation, their advanced-level students "watched a movie about Wyatt Earp, and discussed it afterward, looking at whether the events as portrayed were true," she says.

Isenberg's study reveals that the Hollywood Earp is largely a fabrication – fiction fostered by Earp himself. As Isenberg writes: "He donned and shucked off roles readily, whipsawing between lawman and lawbreaker, and pursued his changing ambitions recklessly ..."

According to Cates, the students were "really impressed by Isenberg's meticulous research. They were also very impressed with the audience. Several students commented on how knowledgeable they were and what interesting questions they asked." She applauds the historian for "presenting his ideas and information in a format that second-language learners could follow, with enough repetition embedded to help them get the main ideas. And, his slides were great, too."

John E. Wheeler, director of SMU's English as a Second Language Program, comments: "The Wyatt Earp lecture is a good example of how we make use of readily available, on-campus resources to support language learning in our program."