Proceedings of the Second Annual Mission Research Conference
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A Progress Report on the New Handbook of Texas: Gathering Information on the Missions and Texas Heritage in General
Thomas Cutrer, Ph.D., Managing Editor
The Handbook of Texas
Texas State Historical Association
Austin, Texas

The Handbook of Texas is the brainchild of the late Walter Prescott Webb. Conceived in the years immediately prior to the outbreak of World War II while Webb was serving as director of the Texas State Historical Association, the idea was to bring into existence a general reference work from which the reader might obtain concise and accurate information on the significant people, places, and events which constitute the Texas experience. Encyclopedic in scope and format, the Handbook of Texas became the starting point for every inquiry into the state and its past.

Compiled through the 1940s under the editorial guidance of Webb and H. Bailey Carroll, the Handbook was issued in two volumes in 1952 to a hail of critical acclaim. To Walter Muir Whitehill of the Boston Athenaeum, the Handbook was "the best systematic work of reference on any of the fifty United States." It is, he wrote in the Times Literary Supplement of London, "an invaluable reference tool for the scholar, the journalist, or anyone else." A Yale symposium on regional studies concluded that the Handbook "embodies the highest standards of scholarship, editing, and publication, and represents local history at its professional best." Testament to its popularity may be found in the several large printings which have been issued and in the well-used copies in any library — public or private — where the study of Texas is a serious concern.

For thirty years the Handbook has remained not only preeminent but unique in its field. No other state has even attempted to match the achievement of Webb and his colleagues, and the Handbook remains to this day the most important single work ever published on Texas. As the years have passed, however, new people and events have come to significance in this history of our state, and the cities of Texas have become the fastest growing in the "Sun Belt," the fastest growing region of our country. With this dynamic rate of change, the Handbook clearly demanded modification to remain abreast of the times. In 1976, therefore, the Texas State Historical Association issued a 1,145 page supplement to the two original volumes. Population figures were brought to date, individuals who had risen to prominence since 1952 were represented, and major activities of the past fourteen years were added to those of Texas' deeper past. Even at the time, however, all concerned with Volume III were aware that soon the venerable old Handbook would require a complete overhaul.

Although much of the original edition remains of timeless value, and although Volume III very handsomely up-dated those aspects of Webb's work which were vulnerable to the passage of time, the overwhelming consensus of scholars, teachers, librarians, and other frequent users of the Handbook is that a totally revised and expanded edition would be of the greatest possible benefit to the world of Texas studies. The scope of volumes one through three, although admirably encompassing the most important of Texas' citizens, almost all of her cities, towns and villages, a large share of her natural features, and the most significant events of her history, will profit greatly from broadening. Texas in the second half of the twentieth century has become a world leader in industry, in the arts, and the health sciences. Texas popular culture and folklore have captured the attention of all of western civilization, and her plant and animal life offer interesting and often unique examples of nature in a great variety of environments. All of these fields of study and many others as well will find a place in the new Handbook beside revised and greatly expanded entries on topics already represented in the current edition.

For this reason, we have brought in quite a number of very fine Hispanic scholars. For example, Dr. Arnoldo de León at San Angelo State University, is our advisory editor for the Hispanic period in Texas. Dr. Felix Almaráz of UTSA is one of the advisors. Dr. Ricardo Romo at the University of Texas at Austin is a very big help to us in making quite sure that the Hispanic culture in Texas is given its proper share in the new Handbook.

Of course, nothing that the Hispanic culture gave to Texas overshadows the role of the Spanish Missions in Texas. They, therefore, are going to be a special part of the new Handbook and Dr. Gilbert Cruz has very kindly agreed to serve as our advisory editor for the Spanish Missions of Texas. Really, Dr. Cruz, rather than I, should be making this progress report since he is the one who is doing the work.

The present Handbook will be expanded and updated, specific topics on each of the Missions, biographical sketches of the most important missionaries, entries on the most important Indian tribes in the Missions, specific entries on Mission architecture, Mission farming techniques, arts and crafts of the Missions, architectural research being done presently at the Missions.

We want to be quite sure that the Missions are totally and completely covered. Dr. Cruz is doing the general thematic entry and also doing an essay on San José Mission, which will, I am sure, prove the model for all of the writers who will be doing work on the Missions.

In addition, it is the special goal of the editors to correct the cultural imbalance of the present work. A product of its times, the current Handbook places considerable emphasis upon the achievements of the Anglo-American Texans at the expense of other racial, ethnic, and cultural groups whose contributions to Texas have also been great. The role of women in the development of Texas will receive the proper emphasis. The editorial staff of the new Handbook has identified among its highest priorities the rectification of these flaws.

As an initial step toward these ends, the staff of the Texas State Historical Association set about identifying leading authorities in fields of Texas studies to serve as an advisory editorial council. These individuals are top professionals from all areas of the state, with specialties as diverse as agriculture, music, archeology, literature, ethnic studies, legal history, folklore, architecture, religion, urbanization, anthropology, ranching, fine arts, geography, and business history. This board has been charged with the responsibility of selecting the most significant people, institutions, and events identified with their fields of study and with recommending the foremost expert on each of those topics to prepare the entries for the Handbook.

In many cases these authorities will be highly regarded academic scholars who have published the outstanding monograph on a particular topic. In other instances, the best authority will be a "grass roots" historian with a great interest in his or her home town, an important local figure, or some other aspect of the writer's own region. Thus, it is our hope that the Handbook revision process will draw talented and committed amateurs into the researching and writing of Texas history, all spreading an enthusiasm for local history and culture to a broad segment of their communities.

All suggestions for topics and authors and all manuscripts received are programmed into the University of Texas' mainframe IBM computer for storage, sorting, and retrieval. Not only does the computer serve as an indispensable aid to the management of topics, authors, assignments, due dates, and word limitation data, but manuscripts are permanently stored, automatically indexed and alphabetized, and electronically typeset. The automated data control process will not only save hundreds of hours of editorial time and correct or prevent countless errors, it will also remain as a permanent and easily accessible repository to all computer users. It is our hope that the data base created for the publication of the second edition of the Handbook of Texas will continue to be expanded, corrected, and made current for as long as there is an interest in the state, her past, her present, and her potential.

As a measure of the great value that the Handbook has for the academic community, fourteen of Texas' finest institutions of higher learning, Lamar University, North Texas State University, Sam Houston State University, Southwest Texas State University, Stephen F. Austin State University, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, University of Houston, University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, University of Texas System Cancer Center, University of Texas Health Science at San Antonio, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the University of Texas Health Center at Dallas, West Texas State Historical Association, and the Institute of Texan Cultures, each have funded at least one position, from senior editor to research assistant, to serve on the Handbook staff. Research assistants, graduate students pursuing degrees in some aspects of Texas studies, are granted half-time appointments to check Handbook articles for factual accuracy, serve in computer operations, and research and prepare articles in their particular fields of expertise. Working closely with senior editorial board members, advisory editors, and contributors, they will acquire a great knowledge of editorial procedures, computer operations, and Texas history, culture, and natural sciences. As a by-product of the Handbook of Texas we are also producing in these research assistants the next generation of Texas' top historians, anthropologists, geographers, and folklorists.

The Handbook of Texas has been, from the day that Walter Prescott Webb first discussed it with his colleagues at the Texas State Historical Association, a "people's reference book." Although scrupulously accurate in its presentation of fact and rigorous in its pursuit of the best possible authority to provide each of its 23,000 entries, the Handbook remains one of the most approachable of all works of reference. Prized in the academic community as a highly authoritative source of information on Texas' past, it is equally the delight of every casual researcher into his or her town, county, region, or family history. Not only does the Handbook provide easy access to the significant facts of Texas history to a very wide variety of readers, it is also the product of a great many minds and hands, some of which are normally employed in the classrooms of the region's great universities and many more of which are those of businessmen and women, doctors, lawyers, housewives, accountants and members of other trades and professions whose role is not generally the researching and writing of history. In Webb's words, The Handbook of Texas will be "the product of the combined literary genius and scholarly ability of the people of Texas. It will be written by the people of Texas and will be the most adequate representation of the state yet made in book form."

The present edition of the Handbook represents the labor of nearly 1,000 writers — a healthy mix of professionals and laymen — and the revised edition is following in that tradition. Already the Handbook's editors are receiving a very strong response from all regions of the state, from representatives of a great many businesses and professions, and from most of Texas' racial, ethnic, and cultural groups to our invitation to submit ideas for topics and contributors. It is our firm belief that, as occurred with the production of the Handbook's present edition, the revision and expansion will ignite a renaissance of enthusiasm for the study of state, local, regional, and ethnic history. The process will, we believe, produce not only a new generation of writers and teachers of Texas history, but a much greater appreciation at the "grass roots" level for the labor of those who endeavor to perpetuate the memory and the values of Texas experience.

The revised Handbook of Texas is to be the primary reference guide to every aspect of the Texas experience. A perusal of the general categories to be treated in the new Handbook or of the areas of expertise of the members of the Advisory Editorial Board will quickly indicate the scope of the project. Literally all fields of the humanities as they relate to Texas will be represented in detail. Such a broad-ranging reference work, designed for the easy accessibility of any interested researcher, will be — as the 1952 and 1976 volumes have proved — the single most important resource in all of Texas studies. Production of the Handbook will involve a projected 2,000 historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, folklorists, and other humanists and scientists, at both the professional and laymen levels, in research and writing activities. The products of their labor will be made available to the broadest possible array of researchers and general readers. A recent TSHA poll of reference librarians from throughout the state has indicated that the present Handbook of Texas is overwhelmingly the most often consulted source on questions concerning Texas history. The goal of the present editorial board is not only to perpetuate that record but to expand the Handbook's usefulness into many other phases of the state's cultural heritage.

Thomas W. Cutrer, Ph.D.
Managing Editor
The Handbook of Texas
Photo courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association

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Last Updated: 24-Apr-2011