Heritage, Volume 8, Number 1, Winter 1990 Page: 20
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Ievising a Masterpiece
by Ron Tyler
T he tiny cubicle that Helen Aguera
called an office was littered with
encyclopedias, reference works, and
other publications that the Research Division
of the National Endowment for the
Humanities (NEH) had funded. No doubt
I stammered as I explained to her why the
Texas State Historical Association had
undertaken an expensive and lengthy revision
of the Handbook of Texas and why we
needed NEH help.
"We need the money to pay the editors
and researchers who are expanding and
rewriting the original Handbook," I said.
"We intend to produce a true people's
reference book." Here I was stealing a phrase
from Walter Prescott Webb, the director of
the Association who had conceived of the
Handbook in 1939. "Most of the new Handbook
will be written by volunteer authors
who are experts on every significant aspect
of Texas." Another Webb phrase. "We
expect to finish in 1995," I concluded.
"We anticipate that the new Handbook will
comprise six 1,000-page volumes. The
Handbook of Texas will continue to be the
reference on Texas."
Walter Prescott Webb, director of the Texas State
Historical Association, 1939-1946, launched the
original Handbook of Texas project in 1940. Photo
courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association.
I hoped that I had made my case: a
broad-based, grass roots project involving
virtually all of the significant scholars on
every aspect of Texas. Fifty-two advisory
editors contributing their time and expertise
to assist us in determining what subjects
to cover, articles to solicit, and literally
thousands of volunteer authors to write
them. Two dozen of Texas' best known
business and corporate leaders donating
their time to help us raise money. Support
from twenty-one colleges and universities
throughout the state. Thirty-eight Texas
foundations that had already granted almost
$1 million in amounts ranging from
$100 to $250,000. There was simply no
project like the Handbook-and the new,
expanded edition would be even more
comprehensive and authoritative. I paused.
"How can you call anything that is six
volumes long a handbook?" she asked.
Was she serious? Change the name of
the Handbook?! "Well," I began, "if you
look up the word in the unabridged
dictionary...you will find, especially as relating
to the German handbuch...."
20 HERITAGE * WINTER 1990
Aransas County Courthouse, Rockport illustrates some of the magnificent public architecture treated in the
Handbook of Texas. Architect J. Riely Gordon incorporated elements of Moorish design to express climatic
similarities between Texas and the Mediterranean region. Photo courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 8, Number 1, Winter 1990, periodical, Winter 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45426/m1/20/: accessed May 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.