Texas Originals

Texas Historian Eugene Barker

He is believed to be the most influential Texas Historian, credited with showing the influence that Texas exerted in shaping the destiny of the United States.

Portrait of Eugene Barker
Portrait of Eugene Barker

EUGENE C. BARKER
November 10, 1874–October 22, 1956

Eugene Barker, in the words of his biographer, “did more than any other historian to show the influence that Texas exerted in shaping the destiny of the United States.”

Born in East Texas in 1874, Barker first attended The University of Texas at Austin in 1895. His life intertwined with that of the young school, helping to make it the “university of the first class” called for in the state constitution.

Between 1915 and 1917, Barker was a leading voice in the university’s struggles with Governor Jim Ferguson over academic freedom. Barker had a reputation for being stern, fair, and honest, qualities that made him a legendary teacher and colleague.

As a scholar, Barker furthered the study of Texas and expanded the Texas State Historical Association. In 1925, he published the first biography of Stephen F. Austin. Through this and other works, Barker made narratives of the borderlands central to American history.

Barker’s influence was large. His students Walter Prescott Webb and Carlos Castañeda continued to make Austin a capital for scholarship on the American Southwest. In 1950, UT dedicated the Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center, the first time the university named a campus facility for a living faculty member. Barker retired shortly thereafter and died in 1956.

 

For More about Eugene C. Barker

Eugene Barker stands alongside Nettie Lee Benson, Carlos Castañeda, and Harry Ransom as UT figures who understood that housing archives for humanities research was one of the major functions of a flagship state university. Barker was instrumental in collecting materials related to early Texas. Along with George Garrison and Lester Bugbee, his interest facilitated the acquisition of Stephen F. Austin’s personal papers from the family of Austin’s nephew Guy M. Bryan. The Collection also encompasses the Bexar Archives of Spanish and Mexican Rule in Texas and the Texas Declaration of Independence. Further, Barker convinced UT Regent George Washington Littlefield to fund the collection of archival materials on Southern history. Today, the Barker Texas History Collection remains one of the pillars of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History on the University of Texas campus.

Founded in 1897, the Texas State Historical Association grew and strengthened under Barker’s guidance. Now based at the University of North Texas in Denton, the TSHA continues its mission of chronicling the state’s past through annual conferences, the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, and a range of digital resources accessible via its website. This includes the Handbook of Texas Online, the descendant of a series of print volumes originally overseen by Barker’s most prominent student Walter Prescott Webb. 

Influential academic historians do not tend to be memorialized as often as the historical figures they study. After the Barker Collection and the TSHA, the closest thing to a Eugene Barker memorial is his gravesite at Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery. Oakwood also serves as the final resting place for prominent Texans such as ethnomusicologist John Lomax, humorist John Henry Faulk, and Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson. Paired with a visit to the Texas State Cemetery a few blocks away, Texans can pay their respects to a large number of the state’s most important political, intellectual, and artistic historical figures.

 

Selected Bibliography

Barker, Eugene C. The Life of Stephen F. Austin: Founder of Texas, 1793-1836. Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1925.

Barker, Eugene C. Mexico and Texas, 1821-1835: University of Texas Research Lectures on the Causes of the Texas Revolution. Dallas: P. L. Turner, 1928.

Cox, Patrick and Kenneth Hendrickson, Jr., eds. Writing the Story of Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013.

McCaslin, Richard. At the Heart of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas State Historical Association, 1897–1997. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2007.

Pool, William C. Eugene Barker: Historian. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1971.

Share