The New Texas History

Stephen Harrigan’s myth-busting ’Big Wonderful Thing’ prompts us to ask: Are Texans ready to remember the Alamo—and the Texas Rangers and the Civil War—differently?

Illustration by Joan Wong; Lamar: San Jacinto Museum of History Association

On paper and shorn of context, “Remember the Alamo” seems like an anodyne enough phrase—a bland reminder to not forget a historical event. But in practice, it has long been deployed as something more: a rallying cry. By telling and retelling the perhaps apocryphal stories of William B. Travis’s line in the sand and Davy Crockett’s last stand, Texans draw on tales of an old battle to fortify themselves as they wage other, newer battles. That’s the problem with the study of history: it’s one part magnifying glass, one part cudgel.

This collection of articles, inspired by the October 1 publication of Stephen Harrigan’s Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas—three chapters of which are excerpted here—suggest a truce, by asking us to acknowledge that there’s more than one way to look at the past, and that other interludes in our history are as worthy of attention as those few terrible days in 1836.

Remember the Alamo? Yes, of course. But let’s not stop there.

Excerpts

‘Big Wonderful Thing’ Author Stephen Harrigan Explains Why Davy Crockett Was the Taylor Swift of His Day (Sort Of)

The Austin author on his fascination with H.L. Hunt, his inability to hate Santa Anna, and how he met the challenges of writing a history of Texas for the twenty-first century.

Stephen Harrigan in his home office
The Battle to Rewrite Texas History

While a new generation of scholars is rewriting our history, supporters of the traditional narratives are fighting to keep their grip on the public imagination.

TEXAS HISTORY Illustration
Américo Paredes vs. J. Frank Dobie

For years, the great folklorist convinced many scholars and activists that the vaunted “Texas Man of Letters” was an anti-Mexican racist. Maybe it’s time to reconsider that judgment—as Paredes himself eventually did.

TEXAS HISTORY - Paredes and Dobie Illustration

From the Archives

T.R. Fehrenbach Is History

Jun 30, 2006 By Michael Ennis

He’s still the gold standard by which all chroniclers of our shared experience are judged, but it’s time to look to the new generation. How do his wannabe heirs stack up?