Monday, July 27, 2009

The Vanishing Myth and Mystique of Texas: Exchanging New Stereotypes for Old Ones

Earlier this month I made a talk as part of the speaker’s series sponsored by the North Texas History Center at McKinney. Each year, this museum presents speakers on Texas history, many of whom are established authorities in their field, including Rebecca Sharpless, Randolph B. Campbell and others. My talk, which took place on Friday evening, drew a group of several dozen interested and enthusiastic people to a character-filled restaurant located near McKinney’s historic courthouse square, a popular tourist destination that includes specialty shops, restaurants, and boutiques that draw visitors from across north Texas and southern Oklahoma. This subject of my talk was the disappearing myth and mystique of Texas. It is my opinion that the Lone Star state once enjoyed a popular stereotype as a place very different from the rest of the United States historically. Cotton, cattle, and oil combined with the frontier ethos to create a distinctive popular image for Texas that convinced Texans they were truly unique. This myth and mystique was also based on the fact that Texas was once its own independent republic with its own set of heroes, including Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, Stephen F. Austin and many others whose names today grace streets, cities, and counties across the state. It is my belief that Texas uniqueness still exists today, but that it has changed tremendously in the last several decades. The old myth of Texas was based on four historical foundations: the primacy of an Anglo-American viewpoint, a state that was primarily rural and agricultural, male oriented assumptions about the frontier, and economic independence based on cattle, cotton, and oil that meant Texas's prospertiy did not always rise or fall with the rest of the nation’s economy. Each of these four contributors to the myth and mystique are no longer the controlling assumptions about Texas and its basic character. The myth of Texas that was created in past generations still exists in some places, it has become more a function today of “branding” and image-making for commercial or advertising purposes instead of an accurate description of the way many Texans today define themselves and their state in terms of uniqueness. I contend that Texas is still unique, but in different ways that include a diverse population, a growing urban environment across the state, and profitable new economic enterprises that will someday be the basis for new historical stereotypes about Texas. The history that we are making today will give us a new myth and mystique that will continue to provide the Lone Star State a stereotypical uniqueness.

North Texas History Center, McKinney

North Texas E-News Article on My Speech

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Camping for History with the Texas State Historical Association

This week at historic Fort McKavett near Menard, Texas a group of young people from across the state are participating in a unique historical experience by attending an exciting summer program as part of the “Texas Old Stories, New Voices Intercultural Youth Camp.” Fort McKavett, the location of this camp, was created by the United States Army in 1852 in order to protect travelers on the old El Paso Road. General William Tecumseh Sherman once described it as the “prettiest fort in Texas.” The Army abandoned the fort in 1883. Today, Fort McKavett is operated as an historic site by the Texas Historical Commission. This week's camp for 9 to 12 year olds is providing these campers with a chance to relive history and understand about the past by participating in hands-on learning experiences while they also engage in fun activities at this historic fort. The Texas State Historical Association began the Old Stories, New Voices Camp in 2006, following a model developed by the Colorado Historical Society and underwritten here in Texas by a pilot grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which has continued its support. The camp is operated under the auspices of the Education Division of the Texas State Historical Association, with joint co-sponsorship from the Texas Historical Commission, the National Park Service, and several local historical groups. Activities at the camp, all of which deal in some fashion with Texas history, include crafts, games, demonstrations, archaeological digs, classes, and related events that will permit campers to understand the pioneer life-style and see how people lived on the frontier during the 1870s. Camp activities encompass the historical experiences of Anglo-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans, highlighting the roles that each of them played in forging Texas history. The camp’s program also seeks to build the confidence of individual campers through group competitions, physical exercise, and anti-drug/anti-gang/stay-in-school educational programs. Campers began arriving at historic Fort McKavett on Sunday for the start of activities yesterday. The camp will continue all this week. You can follow its activities on the camp blog by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Making Cancer History in Texas: The Story of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

James S. Olson is one of this state’s most distinguished historians. He has just published the history of one of Texas’s most distinguished institutions: The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The title of his book is Making Cancer History, which is also the motto of the Anderson. Professor Olson (at left) has been a member of the faculty at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville since 1972 and is the author or editor of over thirty books. He has also been cancer patient at M. D. Anderson since 1981. Steeped with perspective provided by his long and very personal contact with this internationally known cancer center, Dr. Olson has written a well-researched work of professional scholarship that assesses M. D. Anderson within the context of both Texas history and the story of oncology in the United States. True heroes emerge from the pages of this book, including the Anderson's first two directors, Dr. R. Lee Clark and Dr. Charles A. LeMaistre, along with the physicians, nurses, and staff members who have played a role in the development of this Texas institution. In 2011, the Anderson will celebrate its 70th anniversary. This book should be read by any Texan who wishes to be acquainted with the continuing story that has placed the Lone Star state in the forefront of international cancer research and treatment. To date, over 700,000 patients have passed through M. D. Anderson, including Professor Olson who first visited the Anderson at its Station 80 to begin his treatment. So too did my wife Vicki first pass through M. D. Anderson’s Station 80 for the start of her treatment, and that was almost twenty-five years ago for her. She and James S. Olson are still going strong, both of them teaching history courses today at their respective colleges here in Texas.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Remembering H. G. Dulaney

Texas lost one of its most remarkable citizens today when H. G. Dulaney passed away at age 91. He was the founding director of the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham, Texas. “H. G.,” as everyone called him, was a living link to an earlier era of this state’s history. A native of Fannin County, he went to Washington, D. C. in 1951 to serve as a member of Congressman Sam Rayburn’s staff. He became a personal assistant to Speaker Rayburn, working closely with Mr. Sam in the daily routine of the Texas 4th District Congressional Office. In 1957, Speaker Rayburn asked H. G. to become the director of his newly opened library in Bonham, a facility that had been built as the congressman’s district office and as a place to hold his personal papers. Dulaney accepted the post. That was fifty-two years ago, and most every day since H. G. could be found on the premises of the Rayburn Library, even after his official retirement in 2002.
Today the Sam Rayburn Library, now a division of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History of the University of Texas at Austin, is as much a memorial to the dedication of H. G. Dulaney as it is a library and museum centering of the career of Congressman Sam Rayburn, although H. G. would absolutely disagree with this assertion since he was such a modest and unassuming man. Over the last half-century, H. G. worked tirelessly, and with determined dedication, to keep alive the memory of Sam Rayburn and to further the place of the library as an important historical site in Texas. H. G. has met with tens of thousands of visitors to the library, given tours to a hundred score and more of school groups, spoken to more people about Speaker Rayburn than can be counted, and encouraged the researches of dozens of historians – all in furthering the historical memory of his mentor, Mr. Sam. I have had the privilege of having known H. G. personally for the last thirty-two years. He was special friend to Austin College and its students. Thousands of them have visited the library over the decades. It is safe to say that H. G. remained to his last day as young at heart as the typical college undergraduate. Indeed, he had a special rapport with young people. They enjoyed his company and he enjoyed theirs. For a number of years, an Austin College student has spent the summer at the Rayburn Library as a history intern. H. G. always took a special interest in each of them, personally mentoring them and making sure that they had a rewarding experience. He made each visitor to the library feel special, and everyone warmed to his infectious grin and hearty laugh. That grin and that laugh will be sorely missed. What will be missed more, however, is the selfless dedication that H.G. Dulaney gave to the Rayburn Library, a landmark Texas institution which will endure long beyond all of us because of what he did there.

Click here for the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum

Click here for a KXII Television Biography of H. G. Dulaney