The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988 Page: 103
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teacher, writer, and friend. Webb's professional development, as Wolfskill
notes, followed a trail that led from the public schools of small Texas towns
to the state's major university and on to prestigious teaching stints abroad.
From the beginning he stamped the profession with his own special brand
of unorthodoxy. And the difference set him apart.
As a public school teacher, Webb viewed the classroom as a communi-
ty of scholars and introduced students to historical problem solving. In
the university seminar, his methodology was similar. He would generate
the idea, then send his students forth on a historical quest to gather the
supporting data. To the traditional historian, this was heresy.
Jacques Barzun, in his essay on Webb and the "fate of history" (p.
11), observes that Webb's unorthodoxy extended to the writing of history
as well. History, Webb claimed, was a branch of literature; therefore,
students should write well and publish. Historical writing thus became
a teaching tool, a means of disseminating understanding to wide audiences,
rather than a means of impressing one's peers in academe.
As Barzun points out, Webb's own writing, like his seminars, was based
on the original idea. Both the Great Plains and the Great Frontier con-
cepts exemplified the manner in which he used a central idea to create
a meaningful pattern from a mosaic of forces, causes, and effects. Pro-
ponents of the "new history," Barzun argues, could benefit from a return
to the methods of historical inquiry practiced by Webb.
Elliot West's essay, written in a readable style that Webb would have
enjoyed, considers innovative ways to teach the history of the American
West. His message is that the entire pioneering process should be redefined
in terms of family, women, ethnic groups, and patterns of urbanization-all
significant forces in westward expansion. He includes as an alternative
a method akin to Webb's Great Plains approach, wherein the land af-
fects the development of the region and its people. In a more controver-
sial vein, he supports the methodology that analyzes the West in its mythic
The essay by Anne M. Butler and Richard A. Baker on the Webb
"legacy" is as much a tribute to their own mentor, Walter P. Rundell,
as it is to Webb. Most academicians will agree that the teaching of such
individuals as Rundell and Webb far surpasses that of a computer ter-
minal. However, scholars will question their contention that the writing
of a series of articles on Webb made Rundell "the foremost authority
on Webb and elevated the experiences of Texas's best known historian
from mere biographical recitation to scholarly analysis" (p. 75).
Ironically, in analyzing the Webb legacy, the authors themselves are
guilty of simply reiterating the conclusion drawn by Webb's first
biographer, namely that his greatest impact lives on through his students.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988, periodical, 1987/1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/m1/129/: accessed September 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.