The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989 Page: 54
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Southwestern Hzstorical Quarterly
settlement until the six shooter, barbed wire, and the windmill doomed
this forbidding land and its ancient inhabitants to a new American
Until this day I remember how, as a student in Webb's famous fron-
tier seminar, I failed to measure up to his idea of imaginative research.
As anyone who sat in his course will confirm, the general pattern Webb
followed in conducting it was to meet the group two or three times pri-
marily for the purpose of establishing individual research projects.
After another session or two he would call for an oral presentation by
each member of the class on his or her plans for researching the chosen
subject and transforming this into a well-documented essay of some
length. After the initial presentations were completed, Webb would dis-
miss the group until the last week or so of the semester, when it would
reassemble for the final phase of the seminar procedure: a full reading
of each essay, followed by comments and criticisms directed to the
reader by the other members of the seminar and by Webb himself.
Fearful of getting very far away from the subject I knew the most about,
American literature, I took as my seminar topic the character of politi-
cal oratory on the antebellum American frontier. Webb seemed quite
interested in the possibilities of this subject, and I hit the library stacks
pretty hard during the next two weeks, searching for good materials. I
soon found out that the performance of orators on the platform, or
even on the proverbial stump in the frontier clearing, was usually in-
formed not only by some knowledge of how to roll out a classical period
but, and this may have been more important, how to project a classified
range of emotions by following the diagrammatic representations of
the orator in action that were a standard feature of the elocution hand-
books of the time. When I presented the prospectus of my project to
the seminar, I launched confidently into a general comment on the sig-
nificance of the elocution books, only to be interrupted by a polite com-
mand from Webb for a specific demonstration of how an orator, in con-
veying emotions to his audience, used stylized gestures of hands and
feet and assumed various body stances. Wishing desperately that I had
stood before a mirror and tried to imitate some of the postures dis-
played in the books, I made a feeble attempt to respond to Webb's dic-
tate; but I was putting on such a sorry show that I soon admitted, "I
can't really do it." Webb nodded, and, painfully admonished by his si-
lence, I went on to some other things I had to say. My embarrassment
drove me, I think, to put more time and thought into the preparation
of my seminar essay than I had expected to. Entitled "The Path of the
Eagle"-a reference to the popular myth that orators, employing the
standard rhetorical device of tracing the flight of the American eagle
into the empyrean, had kept the bird so continuously in flight that his
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989, periodical, 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/m1/81/: accessed June 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.