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About Eugene Campbell Barker
Eugene Campbell Barker (November 10, 1874 – October 22, 1956) was a distinguished professor of Texas history at the University of Texas at Austin. He was the first living person to have a UT campus building, the Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center, named in his honor. The structure is part of the Center for American History and was relocated in 1971 to Sid Richardson Hall. Barker was renowned for his scholarship, research, classroom teaching, and in the formation of both the Texas State Historical Association and the American Historical Association.
The Eugene C. Barker Texas History Collection was authorized in 1945 and opened to researchers in 1950. It includes books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, photographs, broadsides, and recordings. It is the most extensive collection of Texas-related material in existence. The collection also houses the Eugene Campbell Barker Papers, which cover the period from 1812, his earliest research materials, until 1959, three years after his death.
Early years and education
Barker was born near Riverside in Walker County in east Texas. As a young man, he worked in the railroad shops in Palestine in Anderson County. When he arrived at UT as a student in 1895, he was still a night mail clerk for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Barker received the bachelor of arts and the master of arts from UT in 1899 and 1900, respectively. He procured his Ph.D. from the private University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin. He also studied at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and taught for a time there at Radcliffe College.
In 1940, Barker received an honorary LL.D. from Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky, the ‘’alma mater’’ of Stephen F. Austin, whom Barker considered to have been the most important person in Texas history. Barker was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was a member of the Phi Delta Theta social fraternity.
Through his administrative duties at UT, Barker became an authority on academic freedom and tenure. While he was tolerant of individual failings, he stood steadfastly behind his principles. Before the faculty, Barker would present his views concisely and quietly, but if opposition persisted, he would overwhelm his critics in forceful rhetoric and expression. He once likened a colleague’s reference to "academic courtesy" as "damned cowardice". He influenced colleagues because of the confidence that most had in him as well as through his own ability to express his ideas. A "university man", he would not bend to the winds of popularity and compromise.
Barker was an academic specialist in dozens of subject areas, including but not limited to the following:
The Mexican Army
Battle of Goliad
Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence
Stephen F. Austin
The Republic of Texas and its foreign relations
The writings of frontier historian Frederick Jackson Turner.
Barker was a UT tutor from 1899 to 1901, an instructor from 1901 to 1908, an adjunct professor from 1908 to 1911, associate professor from 1911 to 1913, and full professor and subsequently chairman of the history department from 1913 until his retirement in 1951. He was professor emeritus for the last five years of his life. When the title “distinguished professor” was established at UT in 1937, Barker was among the first three faculty members given such designation.
In search of Stephen F. Austin
Barker was a member of the editorial board of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association and served in 1923 as president of the organization. He focused his studies on Texas history, then a wide-open field. Before he began writing his biography of Austin he assembled Austin’s papers from the period 1765–1836, which were published by the American Historical Association in four volumes between 1924 and 1928. His The Life of Stephen F. Austin was published in 1925 and is still considered a classic, the best single piece of scholarship yet done on a Texas topic. Though Barker greatly admired Austin, there is little praise of his subject because of Barker’s strict principles of' historical objectivity. He wrote of Austin:
“He was a man of warm affections, and loved the idea of home, but he never married. Texas was home and wife and family to him. He died on a pallet on the floor of a two-room clapboard shack, a month and twenty-four days past his forty-third birthday. His work was done, but he was denied the years so hardly earned for the enjoyment of its fruits. . . . “
Other scholarly efforts
After his book on Austin, Barker published in 1928 Mexico and Texas 1821-1835) and in 1929, Readings in Texas History. He and Miss Amelia Williams undertook the collection of the Sam Houston papers, which were published in eight volumes between 1938 and 1943, under the title The Writings of Sam Houston. From 1927 to 1932, he was active in the short-lived East Texas Historical Association, reborn in 1962 and based on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.
Barker served as managing editor from 1910 to 1937 of The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, published by the Texas State Historical Association. He not only edited the magazine but contributed many of the articles. He showed how Texas impacted national development and westward expansion. He repudiated those who claimed that the westward expansion of the United States, the acquisition of Texas, and the Mexican Cession of 1848, were the results of a conspiracy of southerners to expand slave territory. He also rejected those who claimed that the Texas Revolution and the Mexican War were caused primarily by Mexico.
Barker was also responsible for the University of Texas library becoming a repository of authentic sources on the American Civil War. Much of those works were possible from the George W. Littlefield Fund, an initial $125,000 donation from the legendary Texas cattleman and banker, who sought to tell the "Southern" side of history. UT hence also became a major repository of the history of the American South.
Barker wrote textbooks used from third grade to high school. In 1912, Barker, C.W. Ramsdell and C.S. Potts published A School History of Texas, the state-adopted text for many years. Among his associates in writing the school textbooks were Henry Steele Commager, who later became an academic critic of U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin; William E. Dodd, later U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's ambassador to Nazi Germany; and Walter Prescott Webb, an East Texas native who had studied western history under Barker. As department chairman, Barker concentrated on making the UT history department second to none in its field nationally. He encouraged scholars to work in one another’s fields as their research interests so led them. He disdained any scholar claiming virtual "ownership" of a particular field of study.
Personal life and political views
On May 6, 1903, Barker married the former Matilda LeGrand Weeden. The couple had a son, David Barker. They lived in a fieldstone colonial home at 2600 San Gabriel Street in Austin. The structure was a model of architectural beauty and was furnished with carefully selected antiques.
Barker was a golfer and a fisherman. He found time to fish throughout the Austin area as well as at the resort community of Port Aransas near Corpus Christi. He also maintained a summer home for fishing and a respite from the summer Texas heat, in Boulder, Colorado.
Barker was known for his generosity. It was said that few who ever went to him in personal distress failed to receive assistance. He lent money to any needy student and never required a promissory note. All the money, he once said, was paid back, sometimes twenty years later. A struggling graduate student outside of the history department once lost his child when an aviator flew an airplane into their cottage in west Austin. Barker called in the student and offered financial help.
Barker was an opposition leader to Democratic Governor James Edward “Pa” Ferguson, who was impeached by the Texas House of Representatives in 1917, convicted by the Texas State Senate of ten counts of wrongdoing, and forced from office. A banker from Temple in Bell County, Ferguson’s troubles began when he punitively used the line-item veto against the UT appropriations bill and attempted to dismiss unfavored faculty members. Barker also opposed Franklin Roosevelt, a highly popular figure in Texas. He supported the conservative regents, including Republican Orville Bullington, when they discharged President Homer P. Rainey, who thereafter was an unsuccessful candidate for governor in the 1946 Democratic primary election, having lost to Beauford Jester.
Among the historians who studied under Barker were J. Evetts Haley, known for his study of the cattleman Charles Goodnight as well as political writings against Lyndon B. Johnson, and Rupert N. Richardson, later the president of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.
Barker died in Austin shortly before his 82nd birthday.