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