State history group begins annual meeting in Fort Worth

Posted Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The 117th annual meeting of the Texas State Historical Association will be held today through Saturday at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel at 200 Main St. in downtown Fort Worth. The rate for nonmembers to attend programs is $45 a day or $85 for all three days. For a complete program, check www.tshaonline.org/annual-meeting.

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From Quanah and Cynthia Ann Parker to honky-tonk heroes and Texas Baptists, a heaping helping of Texas history will be served up in Fort Worth over the next three days.

More than 600 historians, educators and history enthusiasts will be exploring all things Texas starting today at the 117th annual meeting of Texas State Historical Association, which proudly calls itself the oldest learned society in the state.

The three-day event at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel in downtown Fort Worth will feature 41 sessions presented by 100 historians, five banquet events and an exhibit hall featuring new and rare books, a live and silent auction as well as three historic tours of Fort Worth.

Since its start in 1897 the association has published the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, scholarly books and the annual Texas Almanac. But the TSHA's best known publication is the Online Handbook of Texas which rang up 10 million page views last year.

"There's nothing else like the TSHA in any state, there's nothing close," said historian Stephen Hardin, a professor at McMurry University in Abilene, who has been attending the annual event for 25 years.

"I can remember being a young kid and looking up to all these historians. Now I'm one of the geezers," said Hardin who admits he doesn't go to just listen to "pointy-headed" scholars and hard-core history buffs make presentations.

"It's just a good time. There's a lot of drinking, I admit. I don't go to a lot of sessions anymore; I hang out in the bar. That's where the real networking takes place. That's where the deals are made," he said.

"When you are a state as big as ours, that's the only time I see these people. Sometimes we just take up our conversations where we left them last year," Hardin said.

Organized in Austin on March 2, 1897, the TSHA's mission is to cultivate the appreciation, understanding and teaching of Texas history by promoting research, preservation and publication of historical material, said executive director Kent Calder, a Fort Worth native.

What sets the TSHA apart is that it's both a scholarly and public organization, he said.

"The real basis is in scholarship and its connection to a group of academics at universities. That's what makes us different is this academic grounding," Calder said.

But there's also a place for history lovers who have drilled down deep into topics they love, he said.

One of this year's sessions is "Quanah and Cynthia Ann Parker: A Pictorial Exhibit of Their Story,'' which was produced by former Fort Worth city manager Doug Harman along with Clara Ruddell and Robert Holmes who are active in the Tarrant County Historical Commission.

Comanche chief Quanah Parker was born in 1850 to chief Nocona Peta and Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman who was captured when she was 9 years old and integrated into the tribe.

Cynthia Ann was recaptured in 1860 along with her daughter Prairie Flower but was never able to readjust to white society before dying in 1864.

Quanah Parker led the last holdout band of Comanches until 1875 when he surrendered at Fort Sill, Okla. He then led the tribe in its adjustment into reservation life until he died in 1911.

"If you look at the topics of the papers, it's an amazing array of different subjects," said Harman, who also will lead meeting attendees on a historical tour of downtown Fort Worth and the Stockyards.

Other tours will take in the Tarrant County Courthouse and county archives as well as Fort Worth museums.

"There are so many specialties in Texas history. You have people who are only interested in cattle drives and then there are people who are only interested in women in the West," he said. "There are 150 ways you can slice and dice Texas history and it's reflected in the TSHA program."

The TSHA was headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin until 2008, when disagreements about the relationship resulted in the association moving to the University of North Texas in Denton.

UNT, which has been a leader in providing digital products such as The Portal to Texas History, has been a strong partner, Calder said.

"UNT really prides itself on teaching history and the digital match is excellent. There's a natural synergy with The Portal to Texas History," Calder said.

The TSHA's publications include the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, which has been in continuous publication since 1897 and the Texas Almanac which was first published by the Galveston News in 1857.

The TSHA has also published 150 scholarly books but its best-known brand is a digital age version of a product dating back to the 1950s, the Handbook of Texas Online.

With more than 27,000 articles, the handbook is an encyclopedia of Texas history, geography, and culture.

"We get over 10 million page views a year, coming form 220 countries and territories," Calder said.

"If people Google something about Texas, they are going to end up on our website," he said.

Think of it as a Texas Wikipedia, with serious academic chops -- all of the articles are signed and vetted.

"That's what makes it unique. There are a number of online state histories like it since then but none are as large, the content for it has been building for 50 years," Calder said

The handbook is adding content with spinoff projects like the Handbook of Civil War Texas.

Next up is a Handbook of African-American Texas.

"We're thinking our future is taking this content and repackaging it in this new digital world," he said.

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

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