On St. Valentine's eve, 1897, 10 distinguished gentlemen, brought together by a mutual concern for Texas heritage, gathered at the University of Texas at Austin to discuss founding an organization to promote the preservation and publication of related historical material. The assemblage included academic and lay historians, a membership that has been preserved to the present.
From this inception, the Texas State Historical Association has grown and come to be regarded as the nation's most dynamic regional history organization by historians. The educational institution's first century is celebrated in, At the Heart of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas State Historical Association, 1897-1997, a book by Richard McCaslin, professor and chair of UNT's Department of History. He was recently awarded the 2007 Philosophical Society of Texas (awarded in 2008) $2,500 Award of Merit for the best fiction or nonfiction book published on Texas at the society's annual meeting.
Year after year, the Historical Association's membership grew as it recruited not only the writers, but also the makers of Texas history. By telling the story of the people and the achievements of the TSHA, At the Heart of Texas is the definitive history of how much thought and commitment have gone into the guidance and stability of the state's oldest historical organization.
The text is organized in chronological chapters by the tenures of the seven directors, George Garrison to Ron Tyler, all of whom were professors in the history department at UT Austin. The book, with foreword by TSHA Past President J.P. Bryan Jr., is illustrated with photographs and sidebars — many culled from past issues of the association's journal, the Southwestern Historical Quarterly. A brief epilogue brings the history to the present day.
In 1990, the TSHA undertook administration of the Philosophical Society, which was founded on Dec. 5, 1837, by 26 Texans who met in the capitol of the Republic of Texas at Houston. The society was chartered on Jan. 18, 1936, as a nonprofit, educational corporation, the purpose of which was to perpetuate the memory of the men who founded the original society and to encourage research and the preservation of historical, literary and philosophical documents.
McCaslin, who was elected a TSHA fellow in 2006, won the Tullis Prize for his 1994 book Tainted Breeze: The Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas, October 1862. He also wrote, Lee in the Shadow of Washington, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the Laney Prize from the Austin Civil War Round Table and the Slatten Award from the Virginia Historical Society.
UNT's history faculty members have published more than 20 books about Texas history in the past 20 years. UNT Regents Professor Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell previously won the Award of Merit for his 2003 book, Gone to Texas: A History of The Lone Star State, which McCaslin says he uses as a textbook for his courses. Campbell, who served as president of the TSHA from 1993-94, is now a fellow and chief historian of the association.
Gregg Cantrell, former UNT associate professor of history, also won the Award of Merit for his 1999 book, Stephen F. Austin, Empresario of Texas. Cantrell is a board member and fellow of the TSHA, where he serves as chair of the Finance Committee.
"It is an incredible honor to be given this award along with a select group of people," McCaslin says. "It shows the appreciation Texas has for its history and the strong ties between UNT, TSHA and the Philosophical Society."
The dedication of UNT's history faculty to Texas history research and their involvement with the TSHA led the association to choose UNT as its new home after more than a century at UT Austin. The TSHA opened on UNT's campus in fall 2008.
UNT and the TSHA continue the work of preserving and strengthening Texas' heritage. For more information about the TSHA or its other publications visit www.TSHAonline.org.
Buddy Price with UNT News Service
can be reached at Buddy.Price@unt.edu.