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An Encyclopedia as Big as Texas: From Amarillo to Zavalla, Texas Historical Association has the Lone Star State covered


The folks at the Texas Historical Association (TSHA) have never been afraid to mess with Texas—Texas history that is.

The Handbook of Texas Music

“Some say Teyas is the first recognizable appearance of the word Texas,” said Ron Tyler, TSHA director. “Rather than suggesting the traditional ‘friends’ meaning, it may have been more of a warning—‘Tough Guys’ or ‘Don’t Mess With Teyas.’”

The origin of the state name is often thought to come from the Spanish pronunciation of the Caddo Indian word Tejas. While no single tribe of Indians called themselves Tejas, the word translated to mean “friend,” and generally referred to the allied tribes of their confederacy.

The TSHA published book “El Llano Estacado,” by John Miller Morris, chronicles more than three centuries of history and geography of the Southern High Plains. It offers a different perspective on the meaning of the word Tejas. The chronicles of Pedro de Castañeda, a Spanish explorer and member of the Coronado expedition, suggest the Teyas that the camp met were brave people. He wrote that Tejas represented a warning of power.

In 1930, Texas took on a friendlier meaning when the state Legislature adopted the word “Friendship” as its motto.

The Handbook of Texas Online

The Center for Studies in Texas History in conjunction with its non-profit counterpart, the TSHA, for all practical purposes are synonymous. Unlike historical organizations in many other states, the TSHA does not administer a museum, library or archives. It conducts research, publishes information about Texas and offers educational programs. Today, the association’s activities are organized into four major areas: publications, research and information services, public programs and educational services.

“It is the oldest publisher in the state, having published scholarly books for more than a century now,” Tyler said. “The association currently has more than 90 books, many award-winning.”

The books range in topics as diverse as the state itself, including topics such as music, maps, photography, military, famous documents, football, women and exploration.

Willie May 'Big Mama' Thornton
Willie May “Big Mama” Thornton contributed greatly to the Texas blues tradition.
Photo: © Jerry Hausler. Blues Archive,
Special Collections,
University of Mississippi Libraries.

It seems only fitting that when the TSHA began the publication of a handbook on Texas history that it would take 13 years to prepare, and take more than 3,000 authors, editors and reviewers to complete.

The result was a six-volume multi-disciplinary encyclopedia of Texas history, culture and geography that provides a ready reference source for almost any historical question relating to Texas. TSHA later published the “Portable Handbook of Texas,” offering more historical information about Texas than can be found in any other single volume. Much of this information can be accessed free of charge via the association’s Web site, which receives 1.5 million hits per month.

The TSHA Web site also offers “Texas Day by Day,” providing an interesting fact about what happened that day in history.

TSHA’s newest book, “The Handbook of Texas Music,” documents the stories of some of the most influential people and places in music. The entries in the handbook were contributed by a wide range of volunteers—musicians, teachers, musicologists, those in various jobs in the music industry and music buffs—some of whom have devoted a lifetime of study to their subject. In their collaboration they have been able to create an encyclopedia and biographical dictionary covering all aspects of Texas music with articles and more than 125 images.

“Texas has been immensely important in the development of American music,” said Dr. Roy Barkley, senior editor of the book. “The handbook brings together the stories that give rise to this claim.

Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Lemon Jefferson

“The book includes music legends that will inspire generations to come such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Janis Joplin and Selena,” Barkley added. “There are the stories of blues guitarist Freddy King, who was a major influence on Eric Clapton, and Dooley ‘Play it Again, Sam’ Wilson who became part of cinematic history when he sat at the piano and sang ‘As Time Goes By’ in the famous scene from ‘Casablanca.’”

“The stories of Texas musicians are important barometers of the political, social and cultural world around them,” said Dr. George B. Ward, senior co-editor. “There are stories of musicians such as Blind Lemon Jefferson. When he recorded ‘Matchbox Blues’ in the 1920s, it would have been hard to imagine that decades later the rock-and-roll pioneer Carl ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ Perkins would record a version of the song, and that in the 1960s the Beatles would do the same, inspired by the music of a blind, black entertainer from rural Texas.

“Just like the people, there are places and events that have had a major impact on music as well,” Ward added.

One example from the handbook includes the Willie Nelson July Fourth Picnic. In 1975, 90,000 people descended upon Liberty Hill in Williamson County to hear Nelson and guests. The success of the concert prompted the Texas Senate to proclaim July 4 Willie Nelson Day. Ironically, the overcrowding problems of the previous picnics had also prompted the Texas Legislature to pass the Texas Mass Gathering Act, and Williamson County officials charged Nelson with violating that law. Nelson overcame the minor setback and his picnic is now part of Texas music history and an ongoing July Fourth tradition.

Willie Nelson's first Fourth of July Picnic in Dripping Springs, Texas, 1973
Willie Nelson’s first Fourth of July Picnic, Dripping Springs, Texas, 1973.
Photo: Burton Wilson

Another aspect of the TSHA is its educational programs. Texas History Day, part of the National History Day program, is an annual competition in which students in grades 6-12 demonstrate their knowledge of history through papers, performances, documentary presentations and exhibits. Students winning at the regional and state levels can compete against students from all over the United States at National History Day in Washington, D.C.

The Junior Historians of Texas is the oldest of the TSHA educational programs, founded in 1939 by Walter Prescott Webb, Texas historian and author. Students’ research can be published in the quarterly “Texas Historian,” one of the few journals in the nation dedicated to publishing students’ work.

“‘Texas Historian’ has given many students their first opportunity at being published,” Tyler said. “Writers like Janice Woods Windle, the author of ‘True Women,’ and Prudence Mackintosh, Texas Monthly and UT Press writer, published their first articles in the publication.”

The TSHA is part of the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. To learn more about TSHA’s many publications and programs visit the Texas State Historical Association Web site.

Michelle Bryant

Office of Public Affairs
P.O. Box Z
Austin, TX 78713

512-471-3151
Fax 512-471-5812


  Updated 2014 October 13
  Comments to utopa@www.utexas.edu