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New historical organization aims to tell Texas history through an inclusive, ‘21st century approach'

The U.S. and Texas flags fly over the Texas Capitol during the first day of the 88th Texas Legislative Session in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.
Eric Gay
The U.S. and Texas flags fly over the Texas Capitol during the first day of the 88th Texas Legislative Session in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

When Texas historian Gregg Cantrell took part in casual, online discussions with colleagues last summer to discuss the state of his industry, he wasn’t sure what the result would be.

“An informal group started holding informal meetings with no official structure, no membership rolls, no nothing,” Cantrell said.

Less than a year later, Cantrell, a professor and the Erma and Ralph Lowe Chair in Texas History at Texas Christian University, is the founding president of the Alliance for Texas History, a member-supported nonprofit. The nascent organization is dedicated to including diverse voices to a “21st-century approach to historical analysis, dialogue, and perspective,” according to its mission statement.

The first meetings of what would eventually become the Alliance for Texas History came at a time when the Texas State Historical Association, the state’s largest and oldest historical organization, was embroiled in an internal debate over candidates vying to fill open seats on its board. The TSHA’s main objectives are producing historical education programs and publications on Texas history, including “The Handbook of Texas,” which it calls a “a digital state encyclopedia.”

The disagreement centered on the TSHA’s rule that its board contains an equal number of academics and non-academics.

“[We] started having just Zoom meetings to talk about what was going on, with both the [Texas State Historical Association] and the greater world of Texas history,” Cantrell, a former president of the TSHA, said.

The dispute at the TSHA about board membership eventually spiraled into a tussle over whether Texas history should paint the state in only a positive, conservative light, or whether the state’s true history – warts and all – was a more accurate depiction, The Texas Tribune reported.

Though the first meetings Cantrell attended centered, in part, on the issues at the TSHA, he said the Alliance for Texas History wasn’t formed to compete with the historical association or any other organization in the state.

“Let me be clear about it: We do not see ourselves, did not consider ourselves, do not put ourselves forward as an alternative organization to any other historical groups or societies,” he said. “While it is true that the conflict within the TSHA was the major impetus to the formation of our group, we are our own thing.”

A TSHA spokesperson said it was withholding making public comments about the new group.

“As the largest and oldest historical society in the state, we are always interested in groups focused on Texas history, but we don't know enough about this new organization to comment," the spokesperson The said.

The Alliance for Texas History makes clear that one of its core goals is inclusivity. In large font on the group’s just-launched website, it stresses the need for different voices to tell an accurate history of Texas.

“At a time when the facts of history are being challenged and distorted, voices of scholarship are needed,” it states. “At a time when diversity and inclusion are being devalued and attacked, a focus on all histories is critical. All Texans deserve a fact-based history that allows the most probing questions about our past to be asked.”

Cantrell hopes that within 12 to 18 months, the alliance will begin publishing journals and reports and hold its first-ever conference that he hopes will become an annual event. The group’s fundraising efforts have gone well, Cantrell said, though he declined to how much the alliance has raised.

He said the group has yet to decide whether to participate in public debates over state history. Cantrell said the organization is currently in start-up mode and its nine-member board is provisional.

That will change once its membership grows, he said.

“When we have a critical mass of dues paying members, those members will write permanent bylaws for our organization,” he said. “The board of directors, acting in the interest of its membership, will decide for itself whether the organization will take stands on certain public issues or not. If they want to revise our mission statement and our statement of values, they will be free to do that.”

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Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom