Writing the Story of Texas is a collection of essays about fourteen of the most influential scholars who have spent their professional lives researching, interpreting, and preserving the history of the Lone Star State. Though by no means a comprehensive or definitive list of names, the historians included in this anthology reflect most of the major pivots and transformations that shaped historical scholarship on Texas during the twentieth century.
Offered in loosely chronological order, the book begins with essays on Charles Ramsdell, Eugene Barker, Walter Prescott Webb, and Earnest Winkler. As Cox puts it, these four men “set the first modern standard” for the [End Page 193] historical study of Texas (xiii). The following six essays—on Llerna Friend, J. Frank Dobie, J. Evetts Haley, Robert Maxwell, Carlos Castañeda, and Robert Cotner—move readers into a next generation of historians who, building on and also reacting against a scholarly establishment, worked to revise and diversify Texas history, incorporating new methods and approaches along the way. The book ends with essays on the more recent contributions of Americo Parades, Joe B. Frantz, Ruthe Winegarten, and David Weber.
As a collection, the book largely succeeds. The essays on Dobie and Haley are particularly well done. Readers will quickly notice—and perhaps question—the overwhelmingly pervasive presence of the University of Texas at Austin as a locus of attention. Some will no doubt quibble with the list itself, wondering why certain scholars were included while others were not. For a project such as this, it would have been impossible to compile a manageable list that pleased everyone. On this, the editors should be forgiven, though perhaps more could have been said in the introduction about the selection process.
Such issues aside, what most impressed this reviewer was the degree to which these essays balance and integrate their subjects’ personal lives with their professional ones. Put differently, these essays do not simply recount a litany of academic achievements; they also note the personal struggles, highs, lows, moments of depression, elation, and joy that made life for these scholars very real. The subjects in this book are consistently treated as the flawed human beings that they were.
As a tribute to the very best in our field, this is a book worth reading. As a personal reminder that historians can have a political voice, can transform lives, and can change the world around them—all while struggling with the daily grind of life—this book approaches the realm of inspirational.
Texas Tech University