A Texan in Paris (and other places). . . .

Back from two glorious weeks in Europe.  Atop the Arc de TriompheI won’t provide a travel account of my vacation here, other than to say that it began with five days in Paris, followed by four days with friends in Burgundy, two days in Provence, a drive up through the Massif Central, two nights in the Champagne region, and then a hop across the border to Germany, with departure from Cologne.

Of course any trip to Europe brings one into close contact with an abundance of history–some (but not me) might say an overload of it–and it offered numerous occasions for me, as a historian, to think about history in ways that I don’t often think about it back home in Texas.  So I thought I’d share a few of those random thoughts here.

In preparation for the trip, I downloaded and read an e-book onto my iPad from the TCU library (how high-tech is that?!?):  Alistair Hone’s Seven Ages of Paris (2004), a narrative history that follows Parisian and French history from the rise of Philippe Auguste in the 1100s all the way to the post-WWII era. 9781400034468_p0_v1_s260x420 If you’re going to Paris, I highly recommend this book, although it tends to focus on the kings, generals, popes, and politicians, with relatively little social history of the French common folk.  I found myself wanting to learn more about daily life in medieval Paris, but from what I did learn, I’m sure glad I wasn’t an inhabitant of the that particular time and place.  When you weren’t dying of some epidemic disease in your hovel, you were being trotted out to be used as cannon-fodder in some religious war or some nasty conflict with the English (or the Germans or the Spanish or whoever the enemy-du-jour was).  But in my reading I did get enough of the flavor of life for the masses to gain a new appreication (if that’s the right word) for the staggering degree of inequality that characterized European life for centuries.  You look at an undertaking like Notre Dame or the Louvre–these astonishing structures built at unimaginable cost specifically to serve as displays of the power and might of crown or the Church–specifically to awe the commoners and remind them daily of their insignificance–and you begin to understand something about the fury that was unleashed when the French people finally rose up in 1789 and began their revolutionary rampage.


Stained-glass windows in the Saint-Chapelle chuch, Paris.

And what a rampage it was.  Evidence of it is everywhere you go in France. Much of it was directed at the Church, and from Notre Dame down to the lowliest village chapel, you see what seems like crazy, mindless vandalism, as statues were torn down, glass broken, fires set, and whole churches, like the astonishing Abby at Cluny (which rivaled Rome’s St. Peter’s in size, grandeur, and importance) trashed, abandoned, sold, or used as stone quarries.  When I first began to encounter all this evidence of revolutionary-era destruction of religious sites and palaces, I had what must be a common American reaction:  How could people so wantonly, and in total disregard for their country’s historical heritage, destroy so many beautiful and priceless things?  But as I read more French history and thought more about it, the more I realized that I would’ve probably been right there at the head of the mob, ready to vent my anger at  these symbols of the ancien regime‘s grandeur.  The money spent on one stained-glass window of the Sainte Chappelle church in Paris (maybe the most spectacular display of stained glass ever built) would have fed, housed, and clothed how many families for a year?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Who knows.  Need that guillotine blade sharpened?  Here, let me help you . . . .

The Roman arena at Arles.

The Roman arena at Arles.

Of course, one could argue that the Catholic Church only got what it deserved, after what the early medieval Catholics did to the magnificent ancient Roman sites in the South of France, in Provence.  The city of Arles, in particular, bears witness to how little regard the new Christian masters of France had for their own pagan Roman past, as the astonishing arenas and amphitheaters and shrines and aquiducts were cannibalized in much the say way that the French revolutionaries would trash the monuments of church and state a millennia later.

My visit to France–conducted with my historian’s radar activated–ended with a visit to the Champagne country in the northeast.  Here I had another interesting brush with a classic piece of French history, but one with a happier ending than many of the others.  This included a tour of the Moet et Chandon Champagne cellars–the largest producer of the bubbly stuff in the world.  It turns out that Moet et Chandon preceded the French Revolution (but not the Romans), and one would have expected that they would’ve been a prime target of the rampaging revolutionaries in 1789, given that Champagne was literally the drink of the kings.

In the Moet et Chandon Champagne cellars, Epernay.

In the Moet et Chandon Champagne cellars, Epernay.

But the M&C folks kept their heads down (probably didn’t hurt that most of their business takes place underground), cultivated the export business, and when it was clear who was going to come out on top (Napoleon), they cultivated him with a vengeance.  He became a great client, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Moral to the story:  capitalism has more staying power than churches or monarchies.  Or maybe it’s just that everybody likes Champagne.And they did it right, using the original medieval plans and building techniques.  So what you basically have is a nineteenth-century monument to the medieval past, all done in the service of modern nationalism.  But of course the story doesn’t end there.  During World War II, the Allies reduced Cologne to rubble.  And I mean rubble.  But they purposefully spared the great cathedral.  Yes, there was a good bit of bomb damage, but when Germany surrendered, the bulk of the structure survived.  (The locals had taken out the stained glass and hid it for the duration fo the war, so it all survived.)

Cologne, 1945

Cologne, 1945

Today you can climb the 570 feet from the street level to the top of the highest tower of the cathedral, which offers commanding views of the modern, rebuilt city of Cologne.  (Just be in good shape–it’s quite a climb!)  Historians aren’t generally too keen on the idea of linear “progress” in human history–we know that modern times have witnessed some of the greatest barbarities in the entire history of mankind (remember why the Allies were bombing German cities in the 1940s. . . .).  Still, wilth all the turbulent history of Europe over two millennia, it’s pretty cool that you can see sites like the Cologne cathedral, or for that matter, medieval French chateaus or two-thousand-year-old Roman ruins.  The rest of the world, we Texans included, can take a lesson from a united Europe that is more or less at peace with itself and its neighbors, and finally interested in preserving its historical sites.

Cologne from the cathedral tower, 570 feet above street level.

Cologne from the cathedral tower, 570 feet above street level.

The Dog Days . . . . (They’ll bite you.)

My yellow dog Grace.

My yellow dog Grace.

I wish I had interesting and profound things to write in this space this week, but everything relating to my professional life–especially where the TSHA is concerned–is either supremely boring or not-intended-for-public-consumption.  Actually, I’d take boring.  But most of the past month has been consumed with the other variety of things–things that are actually pretty interesting and might even make good reading (if you like that sort of thing), but which are of a nature that I can’t write about them in a public blog.  These, of course, are things relating to the Association’s finances and/or to personnel, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about them here.  But, oh, what a memoir I could write someday!  (Any of the senior staff or members of the board know exactly what I’m talking about here.)  And maybe someday I will.  I sometimes finds myself wistfully longing for the past day when being TSHA president was an honorific thing, bestowed on some historian to recognize his or her long service to the organization or scholarly accomplishments.  He or she served the one-year term, with only about three real responsibilities:  appoint all the committees at the start of the term, preside over four quarterly board meetings, and then write and deliver a presidential address at the end of the year.  Sigh.

It hasn’t been that way in a while.  Certainly not since the Association’s departure from U.T. in 2005.  That’s not to say that presidents in earlier times didn’t face significant challenges. At the Heart of Texas As Rick McCaslin’s excellent history of the TSHA (At the Heart of Texas, published in 2008) makes clear, it probably wasn’t a bed of roses being president during the Great Depression, during various eras of political controversy at UT, or during the years when the Handbook of Texas project was under way.  But whatever vicissitudes the organization and its leaders may have faced over those decades, they could usually count on the deep pockets of the University of Texas to keep things on a more-or-less even keel.  Our last five years at UNT have been great on many levels, and we are profoundly grateful for their generous support and sponsorship, but replacing the half-million dollars in direct support that we received from UT back in the 1990s has been a challenge, and remains one.  But it means that a combination of efficient management and successful fundraising (on a scale never before attempted by us) are absolute necessities now if we are to continue to do all we currently do, and the job of president has been transformed from that honorary post of bygone times to one more closely approaching that of a true corporate board chairman.  The skills of a historian–even one like me who was once a business major and who has an MBA–are not always the skills that these parts of the job demands.  And so I have found myself spending long hours this summer poring over financial statements, consulting with accountants and lawyers, meeting with our fundraising team, trying to calm frayed nerves and reconcile conflicting opinions on the part of board members, and a thousand other tasks.  It has made for more than a few sleepless nights.  Still, I have a talented and dedicated staff in Denton, a host of committed board members and fundraisers, and I know that the work we’re doing this summer will pay off in the form of an even more effective and important TSHA, one which (as our mission statement says), will continue to “foster the appreciation, understanding, and teaching of the rich and unique history of Texas.”

In the meantime, I just want to get things in shape so that I can leave for my long-planned, much-anticipated two-week vacation to France without worrying about the TSHA.  Do French bistros have WiFi?  I hope not.  And I’m not taking a phone.

And Now for Something Completely Different . . . Canada!

Home from southwest Texas on Wednesday night, then on an American Airlines flight for Canada first thing Thursday morning!  Arrived in Calgary midday, dashed off the plane straight for customs–thankful that there was no delay getting through–and walked straight onto the shuttle bus for the two-hour ride to Banff, Alberta, to attend the Agricultural History Society annual meeting.  Whew!

One of the dining facilities at Banff Centre.

One of the dining facilities at Banff Centre.

I found myself on the shuttle bus to Banff with Bob McMath and his wife, which gave me the chance to catch up on what’s new with them. Bob is a dean at the Unversity of Arkansas and to a large extent might also be considered one of the “deans” of Populist studies, having written, among other things, a seminal work on the southern Farmers’ Alliance and perhaps the best overall synthesis of Populism.

I have never been to Banff.  What a place.  Our meeting was held at a place called the Banff Centre, which is a conference facility on the edge of downtown Banff.  Of course, Banff is surrounded by the high Canadian Rockies, so there are beautiful views from virtually anywhere in town, and the Banff Centre, which is like an upscale college campus with lots of modern architecture, was a great place to take it all in.This meeting has been in the works for more than a year,dating back to last summer, when I was approached by one of the AHS’s officers at the meeting of the SAWH (Southern Society for Women Historians) in Fort Worth about putting together a session for the AHS meeting.

Bob McMath and Drew Swanson prior to our session.
Bob McMath and Drew Swanson prior to our session. 

This isn’t my group–I’m not an agricultural historian and have never been to one of their meetings–but my work on Populism, which was in large part a farmers’ movement, is close enough, I guess.  So last year I rounded up some likely suspects–members of the Populist mafia–and persuaded them to join me in a session that ended up being called “Race and Equal Rights in the Agrarian Revolt, 1867-1900.”  Michael F. Magliari, of Cal State University-Chico chaired the session, my old friend Bob McMath of the University of Arkansas served as commentator, and two other colleagues, Charles Postel of San Francisco State and Drew Swanson of Millsaps College, read papers along with me.

The view from the room where our session was held.
The view from the room where our session was held.

Charles’s paper was titled “The Untold Story of the Grange, Reconstruction, and Equal Rights,” and Drew’s was called “The Season for Violence: Reconstructing Life and Death on Tobacco Road.”  My paper bore the title “Equal Rights and the Othello Problem: Populists, African Americans, and Citizenship in the Lone Star State.”  The session went well.  All three presenters adhered to the time limits, Bob’s commentary was insightful and helpful, and the session was reasonably well-attended, though we drew a pretty bad time-slot.  After the session my fellow presenters and I all dined together , and after that, I walked to town, rented a car, and set out to see the surrounding countryside.

I made the hour’s drive up to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, two places that everyone said were must-sees in the area.  They were spectacular, but the hordes of tourists at both lakes on a Saturday afternoon weren’t my cup of tea.  I snapped a few obligatory pictures and headed back to Banff.  On a whim, though, I decided to take an alternative route back (instead of the TransCanada highway, which is like an interstate), and it was a great decision.  I took the Bow Valley Parkway, which parallels the TransCanada highway, only on the other side of the beautiful Bow River.  This drive is entirely through a national forest, and it was very memorable.  Lots of scenic view and wildlife to see; I highly recommend it.  I was also interested to see that there are a nu mber of lodges and campgrounds, which make me want to return with my flyrod sometime and spend some days fishing the Bow River.  Ain’t no rivers like that in the Lone Star State . . . .

Returned home Sunday afternoon, glad to be home after a week of interesting but tiring travels.  There will be no shortage of TSHA-related chores waiting for me when I get back.


Moraine Lake.


The Bow River.


Elk grazing in the Bow Valley.


A Magical Mystery Tour (with Teenagers, Populists, and Ancient Hunter-Gatherers). . . .

Rock Art CoverOn Friday, June 7, Nolan, Calvin, and I set out for what turned out to be quite an adventure in southwest Texas.  One of the few truly tangible benefits of being TSHA president is the opportunity it presents to meet new people and to try to build some bridges between my little world of Texas History and others who are outside of that world but interested in it nonetheless.  A case in point is what happened when I emailed Dr. Carolyn Boyd, the preemiment scholar of the ancient Indian rock art sites of the Lower Pecos canyonlands, telling her we’d like to visit, and asking for advice.  Professor Boyd, author of Rock Art of the Lower Pecos and executive director of the Shumla School near Comstock, responded with more than advice: She offered to play host to us for two days and make sure we saw the sights (and sites).  I eagerly accepted.

We rented a pop-up camper in Granbury, and headed south.  Our first night brought us to Colorado Bend State Park, a beautiful spot on the Colorado River north of Lake Buchanan, although we were a little suprised by the fact that the park lies at the IMG_6592end of ten miles of washboard gravel road.  (If you want to see a concrete consequence of our beloved ”low taxes and limited government” political philosophy here in Texas, spend half an hour on this ill-maintained park road getting your fillings jarred loose.)  Too bad that the drought is still bad in those parts, because the river was very low, or we would have been able to rent kayaks and paddle the river, but we made camp, cooked dinner, and after conquering the learning-curve on the rented camper, spent a pleasant night. Since we were in a primitive campsite with no electricity, we counted ourselves lucky that it was cool enough that we didn’t sweat in our beds. The next morning we packed up, retraced the ten miles of bone-jarring road, and continued our way south into the Hill Country.

Sam Ealy Johnson, Sr.

Sam Ealy Johnson, Sr.

Saturday was another eventful day, although I’ll admit that this one was a bit self-indulgent.  Our main objective that day, other than to get closer to the Pecos, was the LBJ Ranch.  I had never done the official tour of the Texas White House, but my real interest wasn’t LBJ per se, but rather his grandfather, Sam Ealy Johnson, Sr.  Sam was the Gillespie County lecturer for the Farmers’ Alliance in the early 1890s, and when the Alliance morphed into the People’s (or Populist) Party in 1891, he went with it.  He was delegate to the party’s founding convention in Dallas in August of that year, and in 1892 the Populists of the 98th state legislative district nominated him for the state house of representatives.  Interestingly, the Democrats nominated Sam’s son-in-law, Clarence Martin, and according to family lore, the two men made the race traveling the four-county district by buggy, arguing politics all the way.  The final week of the campaign, at a speaking event in Blanco County, Martin got in a heated argument with Populists in the audience, and one of them pulled a knife and stabbed him.  The newspapers reported that he might die, but he recovered, won the election, and later enjoyed a long career as a state district judge.

The graves of Clarence Martin (foreground) and Sam Johnson (background), LBJ Ranch.

The graves of Clarence Martin (foreground) and Sam Johnson (background), LBJ Ranch.

Sam Johnson’s house.

It was Clarence who purchased the house that years later became the Texas White House, just a few hundred yards up the Pedernales River from Sam’s farmhouse, and in his old age Sam moved out of his farmhouse to live down the road with his daughter and son-in-law (and former political opponent).  So, with my own scholarly interest in Populism, I wanted to see where Sam had lived (his original farmhouse still stands on the grounds of the LBJ National Historic Site, though you can’t go inside it).  All of this is in anticipation of my presidential address at next year’s TSHA meeting, which I plan to make about Sam Johnson and his Populist career.  I’ve been reading all the LBJ biographies to see what biographers such as Robert Caro, Robert Dallek, Randall Woods, Paul Conkin, and Ronnie Dugger have written about Sam.  It turns out that all of them write about LBJ’s Populist grandfather, all of them have only bits and pieces of his story, all of them make errors, and none of them have ever given anything close to a full account.  So, this was my day to give my kids a little educational experience and do a little research of my own.

Calvin and Nolan with LBJ's jet, LBJ Ranch.

Calvin and Nolan with LBJ’s jet, LBJ Ranch.

So we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the grounds of the LJB State Park, then hopped across the river for the tour of the Ranch.  We did the whole thing, including the self-guided tour of the ranch itself, and then the guided tour of the Texas White House.  I couldn’t resist asking the park ranger some questions about Sam Johnson; I wasn’t surprised when he got them wrong.  Rather than make myself an ugly tourist, though, I just let the errors pass without comment.  Maybe someday that ranger will read my presidential address and update his talk.  After some hours at the ranch, we pointed our rig southwest and headed through Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and pushed on until we arrived at Lost Maples State Park and Recreation Area in the high hills of Real County near Vanderpool.  I had always wanted to visit this place, and it did not disappoint.  Maybe the most beautiful place in Texas, the park encompasses over 2,200 acres of limestone cliffs, deep canyons, thick woods, and the clear waters of the Sabinal River.

The boys at Lost Maples.

The boys at Lost Maples.

Lost Maples gets its name from the stands of maple trees that grow along the river bottom, one of those natural oddities that I’m not sure anyone completely understands, since maples aren’t to be found anywhere else within hundreds of miles of there. We had claimed the last available campsite, only to discover that we left the crank handle that operates the camper pop-up at the LBJ Ranch.  After much consternation and study of the situation, we figured out a way to crank it with a crescent wrench, a tiring operation, but it worked.

Atop a cliff in Lost Maples.

Atop a cliff in Lost Maples.

We went out to a picnic area in the back part of the park, which we had all to ourselves, and I grilled burgers and corn-on-the-cob in a beautiful spot overlooking the Sabinal River, and we stayed there till dark.  The next morning, we were up at dawn for a five-mile hike into the backcountry.  It misted rain intermittantly, but the scenery was spectacular, and our trail took us through canyons and up onto a high hilltop and back again.  We all felt a sort of tired exhileration at the end of the hike.  We made breakfast, broke camp, and then it was back on the road toward Del Rio.Both Colorado Bend and Lost Maples are in such isolated spots that there is no cell phone or internet service, and I knew that TSHA business was piling up.  I warned the boys that I would have to stop in Del Rio at some place with wi-fi and take an hour or so to deal with that business, so after a stop for provisions at Wal-Mart, we found a Rudy’s Barbecue, ate our first restaurant meal of the trip, and I set up my laptop and answered an hour’s worth of emails.  The boys were good sports about it, which I appreciated.

Back on the road after that, we pulled into Seminole Canyon State Park around six, our final destination. It being June on the Lower Pecos, there were only a couple of other people crazy enough to be camping there, and we staked out a campsite on a mesquite-and-cactus-strewn hillside all by ourselves, and made camp.

"Shaman" sculpture at Seminole Canyon State Park visitor center, near Comstock, Texas.

“Shaman” sculpture at Seminole Canyon State Park visitor center, near Comstock, Texas.

Our real adventure began Monday morning, when we met Shumla Deputy Director Andrew Freeman and staff archaeolgists Elton Prewitt and David Gage at the park headquarters.  Our first outing was to hike down the canyon to the Fate Bell Shelter, one of the most spectacular of the ancient rock art sites.  Here we got our introduction to complex iconography of the Pecos River Style of rock art, the oldest of which dates back some 4,000 years.

On the hike to the Fate Bell Shelter, Seminole Canyon.

On the hike to the Fate Bell Shelter, Seminole Canyon.

Elton, a grizzled veteran whose career as an archaeologist dates back to the early 1960s, is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on the area’s history and archeology, as well as its geology, flora, and fauna.  He possessed a special talent for engaging my two teenagers and making them take an active part in the learning experience.  I witnessed his instinctive use of the Socratic Method right off the bat, as we arrive at the first rock shelter and he began quizzing the boys about what they were seeing.  Gradually Elton called our attention to finer details of the art, drawing out responses from Calvin and Nolan and then, when they made some pertinent if simplistic observation, he would build upon that observation to begin telling us what the various figures, lines, colors, and symbols meant to the people who created them.

In the Fate Bell Shelter: (right to left) Andy Freeman, Nolan Cantrell, Elton Prewitt, Calvin Cantrell, David Gage.

In the Fate Bell Shelter: (right to left) Andy Freeman, Nolan Cantrell, Elton Prewitt, Calvin Cantrell, David Gage.

It turns out that most of what Elton knows–and what the world knows–about this art is the consequence of a quarter-century of dogged detective work by Carolyn Boyd.  Carolyn and I share one curious piece of personal history:  Both of us had first careers–she as an artist, me in the oilfield–before turning our attention to academia, both of us more or less by accident.  In Carolyn’s case, she saw visited the Lower Pecos thirty years ago, and the art she saw there captured her imagination. leading her to enroll in graduate school at Texas A&M (another thing we have in common), where she earned her PhD in anthropology and wrote the dissertation that became her first book on the rock art.

Excavating an earth oven.

Excavating an earth oven.

Until Carolyn, scholars believed that the meanings of the art could never be unlocked, because the culture of the ancient people who painted it was almost entirely lost.  Some vaguely speculated that the drawings were an expression of shamanistic religion, but others undoubtedly simply thought they were little more than some sort of peyote-induced grafitti. Carolyn proved the doubters wrong (or at least most of them), using her artist’s eye to discover patterns from one site to another and the tools of comparative anthropology to discover commonalities among the various Pecos sites and between the Pecos sites and the inconography, mythology, and cosmology of other Uto-Aztecan peoples of Mexico and the American Southwest, both modern and ancient. Having completed a condensed version of Pecos River Style 101, we spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon visiting other sites and also checking out an actual archeological dig-in-progress, where students from the Shumla School were excavating earth ovens–holes in the ground where the Indians cooked their meals.

Calvin watching archeologists at work.

Calvin watching archeologists at work.

The other high point of this day was a stop by the Shumla School to see the operation there and to meet Professor Boyd.  We found her in the computer lab, supervising several college students as they worked building 3D computer-generated images of rock art sites.  Here is where cutting-edge technology meets old-timey “dirt archaeology” (Elton’s term describing himself).

Dr. Carolyn Boyd shows Nolan one of her students' work with 3D imaging on the Shumla Schools supercomputer.

Dr. Carolyn Boyd shows Nolan one of her students’ work with 3D imaging on the Shumla Schools supercomputer.

The newest tool at the disposal of rock-art scientists is a high-tech microscope/camera/scanner gizmo that allows one to take a 300X high-resolution image of a tiny segment of a rock wall, then have a supercomputer reassemble thousands of these images into a 3D image of the entire wall or cave, which can then be rotatated and manipulated in various ways to coax the art into surrendering its secrets.  Using such tools, in tandem with the latest, all-the-bells-and-whistles version of PhotoShop, the scientists can make even the dimmest, most faded and degraded emages “pop” onto the screen, opening a whole new world of images to be investigated.

Carolyn Boyd doing imaging work on cave wall.

Carolyn Boyd doing imaging work on cave wall.

By the time our guides returned us to our camp at midafternoon, our heads were spinning with all we had seen and learned.  We chilled out the rest of the afternoon, and the boys were again patient when I spent the better part of an hour on the cellphone talking to TSHA first v.p. John Nau about our upcoming finance committee meeting.  With that done, we cooked supper, watched the amazing desert star show when it got good and dark, and then turned in for the night.

On the hike to White Shaman.

On the hike to White Shaman.

The next morning brought the highlight of our trip: our visit to the famous White Shaman Shelter.  Located on land owned by the Rock Art Foundation, tucked deep in a canyon near the confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande and secured behind a locked fence, the paintings in this cave have been described as the Rosetta Stone of the Pecos River Style.

The Cantrell boys in the White Shaman Shelter.

The Cantrell boys in the White Shaman Shelter.

Where others had only seen a chaotic jumble of perplexing figures and symbols, Carolyn Boyd has “decoded” the mural and made a convincing case that it depicts a complex narrative of the artists’ creation story–making it, in essence, the oldest “book” in North America.  We were now conversant enough with the rock art that we all knew what an “anthropomorph” was, and we could discuss atl-atls and datura pods with the best of them.  By mid-afternoon, with the temperature edging up toward 100 degrees, it was time to return to camp for the day.  After a nap in the camper, a supper of grilled chicken wings, and more taking in the sights and sounds of the desert night, we hit the hay, knowing we had a long drive back to Fort Worth the next day.

Our route on Wednesday took us up the old “Southern Immigrant Road” from Comstock to Ozona, a scenic drive with enough historical markers (denoting Indian massacres, stage stops, etc.) to warm the cockles of any historian’s heart, and to evoke the fruitless protests of teenage passengers.  We pulled into Fort Worth at suppertime, road-weary but knowing that we had seen things that most people will never be lucky enough to see.

I’m still reflecting on what I learned down on the Pecos, and what it means for me as a historian.  I think that maybe the most valuable lesson for me was the importance of shedding our own cultural assumptions if we wish to really understand the past.  Scientists before Carolyn Boyd who tried to understand the Pecos River Style rock art were hamstrung by their inability to step outside their modern assumptions and conceptions of the world and put themselves in the ancient Indians’ world.  When those scientists conceived of the art as representations of the Indians’ religious beliefs, those scientists were assuming that the Indians, like modern folk, actually compartmentalized their spiritual lives and their “regular” lives the way modern people do.  What Carolyn’s artist’s sensibilities (and her years of hard work and study) enabled her to do was to understand that the Indians didn’t do that compartmentalization.  For them, the real world and the spirit world, the profane and the sacred, were all one and the same.  Or as Elton Prewitt so eloquently put it, “when the Indians created those paintings, it wasn’t a case of them trying to ‘think outside the box.’  They didn’t have a box.”  It was only when Carolyn Boyd realized that these ancient artists didn’t have a box that she really began to unlock their millennia-old secrets.  The nineteenth-century Texans whom I study–men like Sam Ealy Johnson–were a lot more like us than they were like the denizens of the Lower Pecos, but those  ancient Texans nonetheless have reminded me of the need to not think like a twenty-first-century person if I am to unlock the mysteries of the past.

Of Cat Herds and Big Tents: Thoughts on the TSHA

Trying to get all the TSHA brass in agreement and pulling in one direction is proving to be quite a challenge.  I would invoke the cliche of “herding cats,” but it’s more like herding saber-tooth tigers with a few wooly mammoths mixed in.  Not very many shrinking violets in this group!

It is the nature of our organization that we’re a diverse lot–the board, by rule, is composed of half academics, half laypeople, and not surprisingly, they often hold differing views on what’s most important and how things ought to be run. The academics (by which I mean college history professors and grad students) value our purely scholarly functions most highly—the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, the Annual Meeting and its sessions, and the Handbook of Texas Online. While they support (often quite enthusiastically) the other things we do, including our Education programs that serve K-12 students, college undergrads, and Texas History teachers, and public-outreach programs like the Texas Almanac, the academics tend to view these programs as adjuncts to what they see as the Association’s core mission of encouraging and publishing scholarly research and writing.  It has long been a mantra of mine that our greatest strength—the fact that we’re a “big tent”—is also our greatest challenge.

Whenever my academic colleagues grouse about the laypeople not understanding what we academics do, I tell them the story of the Western History Association (WHA), another scholarly organization that I belong to, and what happened to it.  Twenty-five years ago or so, the WHA, like the TSHA, counted a large contingent of Western History “buffs” among their members.  WHA meetings were not unlike TSHA meetings, with a mix of sessions that appealed to the amateurs and the academics alike.  But the field of Western History underwent a rather wrenching change about that time, and a new generation of young-turk academics, with little patience for the cowboys-and-Indians crowd, more or less took over the field, and with it, the Association.  By the time I started attending WHA meetings in the mid-1990s, the buffs had essentially been run out of the organization.  The very revisionist “New Western Historians” had vanquished the traditionalist old-timers, but in doing so they had alienated and essentially run off a large group of non-academics who shared the academics’ fascination with Western History and who actually had a lot to offer the Association, both by remaining dues-paying members and by reminding the academics of the traditions and heritage of the West.

I do not want this to happen to the TSHA.  We have been remarkably successful at maintaining the “big tent”—publishing a first-rate scholarly journal whose pages are open to PhDs and avocational historians whose work meets the journal’s high standards, and holding an annual meeting large enough to accommodate cutting-edge scholarly sessions as well as more popular-history-oriented sessions.  Yet I also want the Association to remain true to its mission and its own history as, first and foremost, a scholarly organization.  Our Association’s history has proven that the two goals are not incompatible.  However, the danger, as I see it, is that in an era of tight budgets, the fundraising imperatives tend to become so pressing that we gravitate to those programs or aspects of the organization for which it is easiest to fund-raise.  We make a big pitch for grants or donations, and the Quarterly or the Annual Meeting—the two things that defined the organization for the better part of a century—scarcely get mentioned.  I understand why many TSHA leaders want to tell the story of Texas to the broadest possible audience; I want that, too.  But what story is that, exactly?  And how is it to be delivered?  In chasing the big bucks to fund expensive public-outreach programs, do we risk compromising our scholarly mission, which is to tell the unvarnished truth about Texas history, no matter how ambiguous, unpleasant, or complicated it might be?  These are difficult questions, and we continually wrestle with them.

I appreciate the sentiments of those who urge us to “run the TSHA like a business” and find new ways to “monetize” our resources.  We need to apply smart business principles to the running of our organization (and I believe our executive director, Kent Calder, has done so to a very large extent).  But at the same time, we aren’t a business.  We don’t develop “products” to sell based upon their potential profit (though we love it when something we’ve produced does produce a profit).  Our main product, though, is knowledge, and we hope that some combination of people willing to pay for that knowledge (subscribers to the Quarterly and buyers of our books) and philanthropists willing to fund its pursuit will produce enough revenue to enable us to continue doing what we do.  It’s not a business model that any self-respecting businessperson would recognize, and many of our members who come from that world struggle to understand it.  As someone from a business background with two degrees in business administration (BBA and MBA in Management, Texas A&M University), I feel their pain.  The TSHA needs their business experience, connections, and smarts.  So I’ve made it one of my missions this year to try to better explain the academic side of the TSHA to those members.  In the past week, I’ve had lunch with a former lay TSHA president from the publishing world (who has made generous financial contributions in the past); a board member who chairs our marketing committee and who himself is a highly successful marketing consultant; and have had long phone conferences with another board member who owns a successful private equity firm, one who is a prominent Dallas lawyer and chairs our audit committee, one who runs a major charitable foundations, and yet another who has made a large fortune in the beverage distributorship business.  My academic colleagues probably think I’ve forgotten them!  But it’s all part of my effort to get everyone pulling in the same direction and, secondarily, to try to explain the academic side of the TSHA to those for whom it’s something of an alien world.  It’s a work-in-progress, and I do not know if I will succeed in all of my goals.  But if I fail, it will not be for lack of trying, as my long-distance bills and credit card charges at restaurants will surely attest.  In the meantime, I’ve also been writing a series of informal essays about the TSHA’s various programs, for the benefit of our fundraising team.  Since the first two of these efforts seem to have met with general approval, I’m reproducing them here, the first being my reflections on the Southwestern Historical Quarterly and the second one on the Handbook of Texas.  For those who truly don’t have a life, you can spend a little time reading them here.  Bear in mind they were intended for a specific audience, the TSHA’s fundraising team.  Here they are:

                              The Southwestern Historical Quarterly

The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, the scholarly journal of the Texas State Historical Association, may not be the sexiest program for which to raise money, but it constitutes the heart and soul of what we do.  For our first half-century, it was nearly all we did, apart from holding the annual meeting. 

When the TSHA was founded in 1897 by Professor George Garrison of the University of Texas History Department and a group of prominent Texans from the political and business communities, the publication of a first-rate scholarly journal was their highest priority.  Garrison was part of the first generation of professionally trained historians in the United States, having earned a PhD at the University of Chicago.  He became the first director of the TSHA and the first editor of its new journal, initially called the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association.  When the first issue appeared in July 1897, Texas joined only three other states—Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio—as state historical societies with printed journals.  Indeed, the venerable American Historical Review, the journal of the American Historical Association, only predates the Quarterly by two years.  Its 106 years of unbroken publication truly places the Quarterly in rare company among scholarly journals from all disciplines in this country.

In the first few years of the Association, Garrison succeeded in hiring a small coterie of young scholars to teach at U.T., and each of these played important roles in the TSHA and in the Quarterly, both as contributors of scholarly articles and in helping to edit the journal.  The group included Lester G. Bugbee (a brilliant scholar who tragically died young of tuberculosis), Herbert Eugene Bolton (who went on to single-handedly found the field of Borderland Studies), Charles W. Ramsdell (a Columbia-trained, pioneering historian of Reconstruction), and Eugene C. Barker (who would eventually succeed Garrison as both U.T. department chair and as Quarterly editor).  The early years of the Quarterly were marked by financial struggles—Garrison and Bugbee both had to dip into their own pockets to pay publication costs in the early years—but also by remarkable successes in attracting outstanding articles.  Realizing that the generation that had fought and won the Texas Revolution was rapidly passing from the scene, the Quarterly’s editors assiduously sought out old settlers and veterans who could contribute memoirs of the early days of Texas, and these published primary sources became invaluable sources to historians down to our own time—sources that would’ve been lost if not for the Quarterly.  But from the start the journal also succeeded in attracting top scholars, and after several years of publication it had earned a reputation as one of the highest quality historical journals in the nation, a reputation it has never surrendered. 

Garrison died in 1910, passing the editorship to Eugene Barker, who taught at U.T. from 1900 to 1950 and edited the journal till 1937.  In 1912, at Bolton’s suggestion, the name was changed to the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, with the thought that the name change would broaden the journal’s appeal.  Still, under Barker’s stern leadership, the journal continued to publish mostly Texas history, and it continued to do so after Barker was succeeded by perhaps the most famous Texas historian ever, Walter Prescott Webb, who served as editor till 1946.  Succeeding editors H. Bailey Carroll, Joe B. Frantz, L. Tuffly Ellis, James Pohl, Ron Tyler, and Mike Campbell all zealously protected the reputation of the journal and kept it going through good times and bad, never missing an issue through wars, depressions, budgetary crises, and political upheavals.

A word might be in order about how a scholarly journal like the Quarterly works.  In the early years of its existence, editorial decisions were made more or less unilaterally by the editors, first Garrison, then Barker and Webb.  But over the years, as the historical profession developed more uniform standards and practices, the Quarterly followed suit and by mid-century had instituted the formal peer-review process that undergirds all major scholarly journals today, regardless of discipline.  So today, when an article manuscript is received at TSHA headquarters, it follows this basic routine:  First the article is read in-house by editor Mike Campbell and/or associate editor Ryan Schumacher.  If the editors deem the article promising, it is then sent out to external reviewers (variously referred to as “readers” or “referees”) who are experts in the particular field or subject matter of the manuscript.  The number of external peer reviews varies, but two would be a common number.  (A particularly complicated and controversial article of mine was once sent to no fewer than six readers, likely a record for a Quarterly article!)  The goal of the peer-review process is to make sure that the article is accurate, original, and that it addresses some important question in Texas history.  It must also meet all the other high standards of the journal in terms of writing, documentation, and so forth.  Referees are asked to either recommend publication or not, or they can recommend publication pending certain revisions.  It is the job of the editors to carefully weigh the readers’ reports, communicate the decisions to the author, and if the decision is made to move forward with publication, to ride herd on the author to make sure that he or she complies with the reviewers’ recommendations.  Once an article has been accepted, it then enters the copy-editing phase, wherein the article is scrutinized closely for errors in grammar, usage, footnote style, etc.  The author is asked to respond to the copyeditor’s corrections, and when all corrections have been made and agreed upon, the article moves to the final publication stage: typesetting, proofs, and printing.  It is not unusual for a year or more to pass between the time a manuscript is first submitted and the time it appears in print, but an author whose work has made it through this demanding process can rest assured that his article will take its place among an elite few that meet the high standards of the Quarterly.  In all, only about sixteen articles a year make it through the peer-review process and appear in the journal. 

While the Quarterly’s articles are its centerpiece, the journal also contains other important features, most notably an extensive section of book reviews written by experts in relevant fields.  For Texas historians, the Quarterly’s reviewsare what keeps us current, and we watch eagerly each quarter to see who’s written what, who’s reviewed what, and whether the reviews are positive or negative.  And of course, many a historian has opened his newly arrived Quarterly with great trepidation, knowing that his own recently published book, which he spent years researching and writing, will be reviewed inside.  Finally, each issue of the journal also features news of the Association and of the profession, yet another way in which the Quarterly keeps its readers current. In a very real sense, it is the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, more than any other single thing, that makes Texas history a real field.  It is the glue that binds Texas historians together, that creates a community of scholars and those interested in scholarship.

One of the TSHA’s important initiatives of the past several years was to digitize the first hundred years of the Quarterly and make those issues available on our website.  This massive collection now constitutes an invaluable corpus of scholarship available to the public.  Recent years are still only available to members/subscribers.  In preparing this report, I went back and counted the number of Southwestern Historical Quarterly articles that I cited at least once in my 1999 Yale University Press biography of Stephen F. Austin.  The number came to thirty-three.  It is no exaggeration to say that I could not have written that book without the Quarterly, and this is a sentiment that would be echoed by many, many other practicing Texas historians today. 

So, when we venture out to solicit donations for the TSHA, we will all do well to remember that our organization’s reputation as the authority on Texas history rests, first and foremost, on the 106 years of serious scholarship contained in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly.  If a potential donor wants to do something to ensure the survival of the core mission of the TSHA—something that may not seem as sexy as “digital initiatives” or as philanthropic as education programs for schoolchildren—then you might consider suggesting an endowment to underwrite the expenses of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly. 

                                                                          Gregg Cantrell, President

 The Handbook of Texas

It is no accident that may of our current fundraising efforts revolve around digital initiatives, and that the centerpiece of those initiatives is the Handbook of Texas Online (which I’ll abbreviate as HOT).  The Handbook traces its roots back to the 1930s, when the longtime director of the TSHA, UT professor Eugene C. Barker, first proposed a biographical dictionary project for Texas. But Barker believed he would need a million dollars for the project, and in the depths of the Great Depression, that amounted to a pipe-dream. It fell to Barker’s successor, the famed historian Walter Prescott Webb, to give the project its start—and its name. At the TSHA annual meeting in 1939 (and later in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly) Webb announced, “First in point of actual need is a Handbook of Texas History…. Such a work as this would be cooperative; it would require the assistance of every scholar in practically every field of study in Texas…. It would be indispensable to every editor, reporter, library, scholar, and teacher in Texas. It would be necessary for every library in the world that made any claim to being a working library. It would set the standard for spelling and pronunciation, and furnish the starting point of every investigation of things pertaining to Texas history.” “Cooperative,” “collaborative,” “indispensable,” “necessary,” “set the standard,” and “starting point of every investigation of things pertaining to Texas”—these are the terms he used to describe his vision of the HOT.

Webb understood that he was proposing something unprecedented, and highly ambitious. “Some may be appalled at the magnitude of such an undertaking,” he explained. “I readily admit the task is great, but I do not consider it impossible. I think the task is in keeping with the magnitude of Texas, and I dare to believe that the people of Texas are more likely to be interested in a big job that is worth while than in a number of insignificant and inconsequential ones. It is the sort of job that will confer prestige on the Texas State Historical Association.”

Webb announced the project publicly in the Dallas Morning News on November 17, 1940, as follows: “It would be the function of the Handbook of Texas to bring the essential part of this material out of the dark places, liberate it, put it between the covers of two great volumes, and send it forth into the world.” Over the next decade work began in earnest on the project, with H. Bailey Carroll, who succeeded Webb as director, taking over in 1946. In 2952, the first edition of the Handbook was published, a two-volume set containing some 16,000 articles and 2,000 pages. The first print run of 3,000 copies sold out within three months, and another 3,000 were printed. The book remained in print for decades, with a third volume being added in 1977.

This is where things get interesting. In 1981 TSHA director Tuffly Ellis proposed a new, completely revised edition, to be called the New Handbook of Texas. The board approved the project,and Ellis began developing a network of cosponsors through which the intellectual and financial resources of academic institutions around the state could be brought to bear on the task at hand. Twenty-eight colleges, universities, research centers, and historical associations agreed to participate in the project as co-sponsors. These institutions assisted with revision of the Handbook by contributing financial support, assigning staff members to work on the project, facilitating access to scholarly collections, and providing office space and logistical support. By 2985, nearly thirty staff members were working on the New Handbook at TSHA offices, and many more collaborators joined in from colleges and universities around the state.

The beginning of the massive New Handbook project coincided with my own start in graduate school in 1982, and for the six years I worked on my PhD at Texas A&M, the HOT was an omnipresent force in the Texas History community. A small army of graduate students at all the state’s major universities cut their teeth on research and writing for the Handbook, as they were employed as research assistants at their home institutions to work on Handbook articles. I was actually one of the few of my generation of Texas history PhDs who didn’t have some significant part of his college expenses paid by employment on the HOT, but I got caught up in the project anyway, contributing a little to the project and hearing countless conversations about it, particularly from my own mentor Robert A. Calvert, who served as president of the TSHA while I was in grad school during the heyday of the project. One of my vivid memories of those years was how the Handbook dominated the affairs of the Association—the constant fundraising and grant applications, the worries that the project would never end, the fears that it was diverting attention and resources from other TSHA programs. I think it’s safe to say that the leaders of the TSHA often wondered if they had been crazy to take on such a monumental task. But the great day finally came in 1996, when director Ron Tyler announced completion of the six-volume said. The new edition included 23,640 topics ranging across nearly 7,000 pages, with more than 3,000 authors, editors, and readers and funding from 28 institutions, 61 foundations, and hundreds of individuals.

Little, however, did TSHA leaders dream, when the New Handbook project was first envisioned in the early 1980s, that it would in fact become a project without end, and that the publication of the six-volume set in 1996 would only be a beginning of something much more important, even revolutionary. It started innocently enough. The Internet was still young in the mid-1990s, but it had been around long enough for people to realize something of its potential. The idea was hatched to put the whole HOT online, and in 1999 that became a reality. It was an instant sensation, especially because it was an early model of “open access” publishing—i.e., it was free to all. Soon the National Endowment for the Humanities was using it as a model for other states to emulate, and it remains by far the largest, most rigorously edited, and most innovative work of its kind anywhere.

Today the online Handbook receives some 5 million visits annually, from virtually every country in the world. About 70 percent of visitors are new visitors, with the other 30 percent being returning visitors. One of the most encouraging signs is that 48% of our traffic is the product of what the analysts call “brand keywords,” that is, people come to the site have searched specifically for “Handbook,” “TSHA,” and other TSHA-specific keywords. In many ways, the HOT is now the public “face” of the TSHA.

But amidst the impressive statistics and the amazing history of the Handbook, it is easy to forget its real value: the tens of thousands of thoroughly researched and professionally edited articles that are there for researchers to use. There is no Texas historian (and I don’t need a survey to tell me this) who does not have the HOT bookmarked on his or her computer. When I am working on a book or article, I may visit the site dozens of times a day. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve consulted the Handbook in seventeen years since the new edition was first published, I could go ahead and retire now. One little example will serve to illustrate its importance. I have an article accepted for publication later this year in the Journal of American History dealing with politics and immigration policy in South Texas in the 1890s. In writing this article, I leaned heavily on five published HOT articles—entries on Thomas S. Maxey, a federal judge who issued a famous opinion that is central to the article; on A. J. Evans, a local Republican politician featured prominently in the article; on Henry Ryder Taylor,” a British journalist who is quoted extensively in the piece; on Thomas M. Paschal, another important political figure in the story; and the entry on the “Alien Land Law” of 1891, a complicated piece of legislation that figures in the story. If I had had to do all the research on these five topics in addition to all the research I did for the article itself, I’d probably still be working on it! But I knew that I could rely on these articles, and that if I needed to know still more about their subjects, I could always turn to the bibliographies that accompany Handbook entries. Every Texas historian could tell a dozen similar stories about how much the Handbook means in their daily lives as scholars.

The other thing that needs to be emphasized about the HOT is that it’s never finished. New articles are being added all the time, and old ones are being corrected and improved. Alas, the current staff of two part-time staff members can only do a fraction of the work needed to truly keep the Handbook up-to-date. And every time an Ann Richards or a Dolph Briscoe dies, there’s another crying need for an entirely new article to be researched, written, edited, and added to the Handbook. I think back to the go-go days of the New Handbook project in the 1980s and 1990s, and I can’t help but wish we could afford even some fraction of the small army of researchers and editors that we had working on the project then.

One more example from my own personal work will drive home the need for new sources of funding for the Handbook. My research passion is the political history of Texas, and in recent times much of my work has involved the Texas legislatures of the 1890s. I’m particularly interested in a major third-party movement of that era, the Populists, and I knew that over a decade’s time, forty members of the Populist Party were elected to the state legislature. But when I turned to the Handbook, I discovered to my chagrin that only two of the forty have HOT entries. Most of the rest languish in total obscurity. This discovery led me to investigate further, and I learned that the Handbook contains 1,139 entries on individual Texas legislators. This sounds like a lot, but some more research then revealed to me that there are over 4,000 more (who are dead and thus eligible for inclusion) who have no entry. This drove home to me the realization of the extent to which the Handbook of Texas, magnificent though it is, is truly an unfinished project. Like Mike Campbell and several other professors, I have begun incorporating Handbook research into my graduate classes in recent times, and my students have now written and contributed a number of articles on previously unknown legislators, but they are a drop in the ocean. One of my fondest dreams is that someday this remarkable, unique resource will realize the level of financial support that could make something like my Texas legislators project a reality. The Handbook is great now, but its potential greatness knows no bounds. The philanthropic soul who someday chooses to endow the Handbook will be able to rest assured knowing that his or her contribution has truly been an act of Texas patriotism of the highest order.

                                                                     Gregg Cantrell, President

School’s out . . . but no vacation.

I turned in grades last Friday, which, in the springtime, normally means it’s time for a little down-time.  Alas, not this year.  Having put TSHA stuff on the back burner for a week or so, I had a lot of catching-up to do with Association business. 

For one thing, I’m continuing my efforts to sit down one-on-one with members of my board, get to know them better, find out what they’re thinking, and generally talk about TSHA matters.  So I did that with two of them in person, and a couple more by phone.  We have our summer board meeting in late June, to be preceded by a finance committee meeting in late May, and I’ve got a lot of preparing to do for those meetings.  As usual, the big job is to try to understand the Association’s exceedingly complex finances.  For years we have fought a running battle to get an accounting system that a mere mortal can understand.  The reason it’s so hard is that the TSHA, like many nonprofits, gets its income from a very diverse set of sources.  Much of our funding comes from donations, and many of these are earmarked for specific projects.  Some of the donations are endowments, some are paid to us over a period of years, and all of this makes the accounting really tricky.  It’s the nature of our operation that both our revenues and our expenses come in spurts and lumps.  For example, we produce the Texas Almanac every two years, so for two years we pay salaries and expenses in producing the volume, only to realize revenue when the book is finally published.  Many gifts come with strings attached, requiring special accounting procedures. Some of our funds were created decades ago, and in some cases the purposes for which they were created have ceased to be relevant.  But to change the funds’ stated purpose requires going back to the original donors and getting legal permission to use the money in other ways, and that can be difficult. Foundations, which constitute a major source of our funding, are often reluctant to let grant money be used for endowment puproses or for general administrative costs, so sometimes we have money for specific projects but are stretched thin to pay the associated costs of personnel and administration.  Fortunately we have an ace accountant and an excellent bookkeeper, and between them they’ve got our books in better shape than they’ve ever been.  Still, it can be hard to answer a simple question like, “How much did Program A cost us last year?”

crescent club

The Grill at the Crescent Club.

We’ve enlisted the services of a fundraising consulting firm to help us with our upcoming campaign (it’s actually already under way, but in the so-called “quiet phase” now, so I won’t say much about it here), and on Thursday I drove to Dallas and had a working lunch with the firm’s president.  He treated me to lunch at the Crescent Club, high atop the Crescent Building in the Uptown area of Dallas.  A useful meeting, and fun to dine on the seventeenth floor with a panaoramic view of downtown.  After lunch, dashed home to Fort Worth in time to pick up Calvin from school–he’s on crutches from a basketball injury and can’t walk home from the bus stop. 

Crow Library

Main hall of the Crow Library.

But maybe the highlight of my week came Tuesday, when my friend Alexis McCrossen of SMU arranged a tour of the Harlan Crow Library for a group of us.  Harlan Crow is a billionaire real estate developer who owns a priceless collection of art, rare books, and documents, housed in his Highland Park Mansion.  The group of us, which included me, Alexis, UTA historians Sam Haynes and Stephanie Cole, and U.T. Press editor Robert Devens, spent about two hours there, being shown the collections by Crow’s private curator/librarian, Sam Fore.  I toured the White House with my kids a couple of years ago, and I never thought I’d be in a private home that makes the White House look a little small and shabby by comparison.  But this one does.  I was sorry that I didn’t get to meet Mr. Crow himself, but maybe there’ll be another occasion. 


From left to right: Robert Devens, Alexis McCrossen, me, Sam Haynes, and Sam Fore.
From left to right: Robert Devens, Alexis McCrossen, me, Sam Haynes, and Sam Fore.

 After regrouping at Mi Cocina in Highland Park Village, we attended a reception at the SMU History Department honoring two faculty members who have just published books.  Alexis McCrossen, who had arranged the tour of the Crow Library, was one of the authors being honored, and we all enjoyed good food and conversation. Marking Modern TimesAlexis’s book, Marking Modern Times: A History of Clocks, Watches, and Other Timepieces in American Life (University of Chicago Press, 2013) is a fascinating and important work of social and cultural history, and it has earned her a well-deserved promotion to full professor. 

Spent all day Friday grinding away on TSHA stuff (including more long conversations with board members), interrupted only by a couple of hours spent preparing a talk for the Tarrant County Democratic Women’s Club, which I delivered Saturday morning.  My topic was “Fort Worth Populists: The Roots of Progressive Politics in Tarrant County,” and they were an engaged and appreciative audience.  Alas, it ate up most of my morning, but I’ve finally reached Saturday afternoon, and I’m thinking that maybe I’ll indulge myself this afternoon and do something fun, like work on the windshield wipers of my new VW Thing.

Texas History Day, and Hangin’ with Republicans!

Back from a quick trip to Austin for Texas History Day.  This is the state-level competition for National History Day, and it’s an annual event that involves thousands of Texas schoolchildren, grades 6-12.  Those who make it to Austin have already competed successfully in local and regional competitions.  Categories include papers, performances, documentaries, web sites or exhibits.  This year over a thousand regional winners gathered at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin for the state finals, and every time I go, I’m amazed by the buzz of excitement in the air.  Winners at the state level–some sixty of them–will get to go to Washington for the national finals. 

I had to preside at DASH at SMU Friday night, so I couldn’t come to Austin till early Saturday morning, but by the time I got to the museum the event was in full swing.  At noon we had a luncheon for various members of the two host organizations–the TSHA and the Bullock Museum–and when we assembled in the boardroom for the meal, I was pleased to see that I was to be seated next to Karl Rove, who is on the Museum’s board.  Alas, Karl was a no-show, but I did get to chit-chat during the meal with Clay Johnson, who, like Rove, was a senior advisor to George W. Bush during his presidency. Clay is a native of Fort Worth and has been a friend of President Bush since childhood.  He was Governor Bush’s chief of staff, then deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, and finally director of presidential personnel.  We mainly talked about the just-opened Bush Library, which had been much in the news just a week or so ago. 

VW thing 3

Calvin, Nolan, and I in the new Thing.

My other errand in Austin was to take delivery on the vehicle I’ve bought for my sons–the oldest of whom is soon to be old enough to drive.  The car is a 1973 VW Thing, in very nice condition for a forty-year-old vehicle.  I met the seller (whose sister, it turns out, sits on the TSHA board with me–small world), paid cash for the vehicle, and hitched it to my truck for the tow back to Fort Worth.  Made the trip back down I-35 without incident, and am now looking forward to tinkering with the Volkswagen.


Veni, vidi, narrabo vixit


[Rough translation: I came, I saw, I lived to tell the tale . . . .].


On the Lynchburg Ferry

The speech at San Jacinto has come and gone, and nobody yelled “get a rope” when it was over.  I got on the road around 8 a.m. Sunday morning and drove to Houston, gassed up my natural-gas-powered Honda Civic at one of Houston’s two CNG stations, and then headed for the battleground.  I made the error of going by way of the Lynchburg Ferry, which required about a thirty-minute wait, but I still got there with a good thirty minutes so spare.  I was greeted by my old friend Sam Houston IV, who looks more like his famous great-grandfather every time I see him.  He introduced me to the master of ceremonies for the day, Ron Stone, Jr., who is the son of the late legendary Houston newsman Ron Stone, whom I met on a number of occasions when I lived in Huntsville in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ron Stone Jr. and Sam Houston IV.

Ron Stone Jr. and Sam Houston IV.

There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance at these events, and the Texas Army reenactors were there in costume to provide the military salute.  Everybody got a good laugh when their cannon set off a nearby car alarm.  What a juxtaposition of the historical and the modern!  But the ceremonies began on time and proceeded at a brisk pace, and soon it was time for me to do my thing.  It was a breezy but nice day, with enough intermittant cloud cover to keep us from sweating too much.  I had to hold on to my speech with both hands, which was probably good, since it keeps me from being overly theatrical with hand gestures and such.  I made it through my speech in the allotted eighteen minutes, and got a polite applause when it was over.IMG_6490

The only really positive feedback I got was from state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, with whom I shared the podium.  After the ceremonies she came up to me and gave me a warm handshake, told me how much she liked and agreed with my talk, and expressed her hope that others would heed my call to embrace diversity and new approaches to the study of history.  It was nice to know that she got the point of the speech.  I spent the night in downtown Houston, where I enjoyed watching the Rockets play their first-round game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Unfortunately, the Rockets took a bad drubbing.

I came home by way of College Station, where I had a two-hour working lunch with my grad school mentor and fellow TSHA board member Walter Buenger.  We talked about my plans for the Strategic and Operational Audit and other matters, and then I headed home.  Thrilled to see that there is now a CNG station in Bryan! cng pump Now I can drive my Honda to my sister’s house in Bryan and to A&M events in College Station, because I can refuel there.  I hope this means that more stations will be popping up around the state, and I can leave my gasoline-powered Toyota in the garage more and more.


History and Heritage: Strange Bedfellows?

san jacinto day 2011

San Jacinto Day Ceremony, 2011

I spent all day today working on my speech for the upcoming San Jacinto Day ceremonies at the San Jacinton Battleground near Houston.  This is the annual commemorative exercises held on the anniversary of the battle each April 21.  It was at this battle in 1836 that the Texas revolutionary army under the command of Gen. Sam Houston surprised a division of the Mexican army under Santa Anna, winning the battle in a reported eighteen minutes (though the killing of mostly retreating or surrendering Mexican soldiers went on for another hour or more).  In the end, some six hundred Mexican soldiers were killed and another seven hundred captured, including Santa Anna himself, who was found hiding in a nearby barn the next day.  Houston lost only a handful killed or wounded, including Houston himself, whose ankle was shattered by a Mexican musket ball.

When I was asked to participate in the annual commemorative exercises (by a great-great-great-granddaughter of Sam Houston, no less), my first inclination was to decline politely. Historians, after all, aren’t really in the business of commemoration.  Our job is much more mundane:  to find out what really happened (or as much of what really happened as we can learn), and then to analyze and explain the meaning and significance of the event.  We’re supposed to let the evidence dictate what we conclude, and if those conclusions happen not to reflect entirely positively on the events or people involved, we’ve still got to call ‘em like we see ‘em.  A year ago I did speak at the graveside service at Sam Houston’s grave site in Huntsville on his birthday, and I did give a rather glowing speech about Houston, but Houston is that rare nineteenth-century leader who really has aged well, and you can find plenty of positive things to say about him without stretching the truth or leaving out too much unsavory stuff.  But being asked to commemorate San Jacinto Day is a different matter altogether.  An event in which a bunch of white guys slaughtered a bunch of Mexicans in order to win the independence of a slaveholding republic, well . . . this is a matter fraught with difficulty. san jac detail Not that I would ever frame a discussion of the battle in such presentist terms.  I fully recognize that the Anglo-Texans were people of their times, and I wouldn’t impose our twenty-first century standards (racial or otherwise) on them and judge them accordingly.  Having said that, no self-respecting historian today would fell comfortable whitewashing (no pun intended) the racial dynamics of the battle or of the revolution overall, nor the political and economic motives of the Texans.  At the same time, modern historical assessments of the battle and of the larger revolution have to include realistic assessments of Santa Anna: he was a self-absorbed, amoral, borderline-megalomaniac as well as a patriot striving to maintain the territorial integrity of his young nation.  All of this seemed like a swamp that I, as president of the TSHA, would be wise not to wade into.

But then I thought about it a little more, and I decided that maybe I had an obligation to accept the invitation–not only because it seems like the sort of thing that the TSHA president ought to do, but because it actually might give me a little bit of a bully pulpit to say something worth saying.  So I accepted, but warned my friend who had extended the invitation that I might be provocative in my speech.  She told me to bring it on.  So I am.

I’m going to use the occasion, then, to talk about the seeming conflict between the public’s conception of history (which is often uncritical and tangled up with commemoration and patriotism) and the academic practice of history in the twenty-first century.  My “hook” is to begin the speech with a short mention of the recent controversial report by the National Association of Scholars criticizing the teaching of American history at Texas A&M and U.T.  The report, released in January (http://www.nas.org/images/documents/Recasting_History.pdf) conducted an analysis of assigned readings in freshman and sophomore history classes at the two universities and concluded that “the course readings gave strong emphasis to race, class, or gender (RCG) social history, an emphasis so strong that it diminished the attention given to other subjects in American history.”  My speech uses this as a jumping-off point, to talk about how “race, class, and gender” and a couple of other recent trends in the profession can actually teach us new things about the Battle of San Jacinto and the Texas Revolution.  I’ll give a number of concrete examples from the works of several contemporary scholars (most of them friends of mine), and argue that not only do the  oft-criticized approaches of social and cultural history actually enhance our understanding of events, but that applying such approaches is necessary if we hope to keep the history of events like San Jacinto relevant to today’s Texas, a state where only 22 percent of the population are white males like me.  We’ll see how the speech is received.  It may be as popular as the proverbial skunk at a garden party, or maybe it will cause people to pause and think in new ways about the work that historians do.

Stay tuned.


The Politics of History. . . .

One thing I didn’t anticipate when I became TSHA president was how involved I would have to become in current politics.  The first inkling of this came at the annual TSHA business meeting last month, when our Archives Committee brought forth a couple of resolutions weighing in on current legislation before the state legislature.  Since then, various TSHA committees have been tracking several more bills of interest to the Association and to historians in general.  Without getting into specifics, the bills touch upon a number of issues:  proposed changes in the social studies curriuculum for the public schools; proposed changes in the U.S. survey course requirements in state colleges and universities; bills that would allow state military records to be taken out of the State Archives and placed in state military museums; and legislation that would extend the number of years before state birth and death records would be opened to the public.  The last of these, which proposed extending the time that birth and death records would be unavailable from 75 to 125 years, would have a particularly chilling effect on my own research into the Populist era, because I rely on those records for lots of the biographical information on Populists, most of whom died in the first two decades of the twentieth century.  Fortunately, knowledgable TSHA members had a hand in drafting a good alternative to the objectionable bill, so we have something positive to champion in addition to the several bills we are opposing.  As a consequence of all this, I’ve acquired a new skill: learning how to track bills as they make their way through the legislature (it’s easy on the state website), and I’ve been beseiged by pleas from various interested parties to weigh in on the various bills.  Of course I’ve got to be careful not to represent my own personal views as the official position of the TSHA, unless the TSHA has actually taken an official stand, as they have on the open-records bills.

Nolan and Calvin at Texas Luthern University for Wendy Davis town hall meeting.

Finally, on Saturday, I felt that I knew enough about the various bills–and the TSHA’s position (or lack thereof) on them–that I could attend a town hall meeting held by my own state senator, Wendy Davis of Fort Worth.  The meeting was at Texas Wesleyan University, and I took sons Nolan and Calvin for a little hands-on civics lesson.  We turned in forms stating our name and the subject matter we wanted to discuss, and when Sen. Davis called on me, I was able to briefly mention the bills I was interested in and my concerns about them.  The TCU- and Harvard Law School-educated Senator Davis, one of the smartest lawmakers in Austin, was conversant with all but one of the bills, and she was clearly interested in the one that she didn’t know about and promised to follow up on it.  So I felt good about having weighed in on these matters, and in the process, having given my sons a little first-hand look at democracy in action.  It will be interesting to see what becomes of the various bills, and to see if the exertions by historians–myself included–have any effect.


Yu Darvish

My sister Diana came for a visit on Sunday, and a group including myself, her, and oldest son Calvin went to the Rangers-Angels game at the Ballpark in Arlington.  Entertaining game with Rangers ace Yu Darvish on the mound, versus the Halos’ ace Jared Weaver.  Yu left early with a blister, but the bullpen saved the day, along with long balls from David Murphy, Ian Kinsler, and Lance Berkman.  Rangers won 7-3, the weather was perfect, and a good time was had by all.  Darvish just missed a perfect game in his season opener against the Astros when the 27th batter hit a ground-ball through his legs for a base hit, and I think his blister in this game was probably a result of the 110 pitches he threw in the previous game.  I spend way too much time watching baseball.