Robert Arnold “Bob” Calvert, historian of Texas and university professor, was born on October 18, 1933, in Stephenville, in Erath County, Texas, to Robert Clark Calvert and Pauline (McGaffey) Calvert. Calvert’s father, R.C., was listed as a preacher in the 1940 census, and Bob was the only child living with the family. By that point the family lived outside of Maypearl in rural Ellis County. His father continued his duties as a Protestant minister in the following years. At some point his parents separated, and Calvert often lived with his mother in the Beaumont/Port Arthur, Texas, area. When asked in later years where he grew up, Calvert often replied Beaumont/Port Arthur.
Frequent changes of locale continued to be the norm for Calvert after he left home for college. He attended Southern Methodist University and then served a stint in the U.S. military. He graduated with a B.A. degree from North Texas State University in 1957 and received an M.A. from the same institution in 1959. He taught at Nicholls State College in Thibodaux, Louisiana, in 1960–61 and at the University of Texas at Austin while pursuing his Ph.D. He served as an instructor at Texas A&M University from 1965 to 1967 and then began an extended period at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1969, and between 1967 and 1975 he advanced from assistant to associate professor at North Texas. From January 1974 to June 1975 he was a visiting associate professor at the University of Texas. Later in 1975 Calvert took a position as associate professor at Texas A&M University where he found a home, and he remained there until his death in 2000.
In those twenty-five years at A&M and before, Calvert played a leading role in education and routinely chaired the Ph.D. committees of multiple graduate students and taught hundreds of undergraduates each year. Through his college textbook, A History of Texas, first published in 1990 with Arnoldo De León, Calvert reached students throughout Texas. In cooperation with other scholars he also edited six other books aimed at undergraduates, graduate students, and fellow historians. Among these was Texas Through Time, a collection of historiographic essays published in 1991 and intended to persuade historians and all students of Texas history to move beyond outdated and erroneous interpretations of the past. His teaching lives on through these books, especially A History of Texas. Gregg Cantrell joined De León in revising this text, and it continued to inform and enlighten college students around Texas in the 2010s.
Calvert’s publications like his teaching often reflected his vibrant personality, his rural roots, his dedication to equality, and his sense of fun. He coedited, Cartooning Texas: One Hundred Years of Cartoon Art in the Lone Star State (1993), and he was a coauthor of a 1969 study of the Dallas Cowboys football team. He wrote numerous articles and book chapters on agrarian protest movements and on the civil rights movement.
As his textbook, his historiographic work, and all his other writings suggest, Calvert was a pioneer in re-conceptualizing Texas as a place with many cultures and peoples and a place where the history of everyday folks counted as much as the history of elites. He often recorded the history of these everyday people by collecting oral interviews. As much as anyone, he brought the influence of social history and its methods to bear on the history of Texas.
Calvert took this drive to re-conceptualize Texas history to his two main areas of professional service: the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) and Texas A&M University Press. He was president of the TSHA in 1989–90, and he was book review editor of the TSHA’s Southwestern Historical Quarterly from 1972 to 1980. He also served on the editorial board of the Quarterly and on the publications committee of the TSHA Press through the 1990s. He was the editorial advisor on post-1945 entries for The New Handbook of Texas, a major expansion and revision of the TSHA’s reference work on Texas history. He also was the longtime coeditor of the Texas A&M University Press “Southwestern Studies” series, and he served on the press’s advisory board. The Robert A. Calvert Book Prize, an annual juried award for the best book manuscript at TAMU Press on the history of the South, West, or Southwest, was established in his honor.
Despite his many accomplishments Calvert was regarded by colleagues as a caring person, who, through his kindness, generosity of spirit, and sense of the joy of studying history, helped change the way a generation of those who thought and taught about Texas approached their craft.
Calvert died of cancer at age sixty-seven on November 30, 2000, in College Station, Texas. He had four children with his first wife, Martha “Marty” Calvert (they divorced in 1981): Patrice Calvert Fessenden, Don Calvert, Jeff Calvert, and Pauline “Polly” Calvert. Polly predeceased him. He helped raise two stepsons with his second wife, Donna Hanna-Calvert: Mike Baxter and David Baxter. He was buried in Bryan City Cemetery.