Malcolm D. McLean, historian, editor, and Spanish translator, was born in Joe Lee (previously Mud Springs), Texas, on March 10, 1913, to Dallas Duncan and Gladys (Robertson) McLean. His family moved around Central and West Texas before settling in Belton, where he graduated from high school in 1931. He attended the University of Texas in Austin and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 1936. He continued graduate studies at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where he received a Maestro de Artes en Español in 1938. During his undergraduate years at UT, McLean worked as an associate editor at the Belton Journal and as an editor of Spanish translations for the Texas Historical Records Survey.
In Austin he met Mary Margaret Stoner, whom he wed on February 11, 1939. The newlyweds made their first home in Houston, where he served as the first assistant director and archivist at the San Jacinto Museum of History. At the outbreak of World War II McLean received an offer of employment in military intelligence from the War Department, and the couple moved to Washington, D.C. Their only child, John Robertson McLean, was born in 1943. McLean served as a geographic and economic analyst at the Mexico and Central America Desk until 1946.
Following the war McLean returned to the University of Texas in Austin for doctoral work in Spanish and Spanish American Literature, where he also served as translator of the Bexar Archives in 1946–47, before becoming an instructor in the Romance languages department at UT until his graduation in 1951. During this period he first began publishing on early Texas history, partly from his work in the Bexar Archives and partly from personal research into his family connection to the Robertson Colony, including his first contributions to the Southwestern Historical Quarterly. During his first academic position, professor of Romance languages at the University of Arkansas from 1951 to 1956, he continued publishing both in the field of Spanish literature and in Texas history, including eleven articles to the Handbook of Texas.
After serving as director of the Bi-national Center of the U.S. Information Agency in both Honduras and Ecuador from 1956 to 1961, McLean began a fifteen-year career at Texas Christian University as a professor of Spanish and as associate dean of the AddRan College of Arts and Sciences. It was during these years that he began what proved to be his life’s work of formally collecting, editing, translating, and annotating the nineteen-volume Papers Concerning Robertson’s Colony in Texas. His research and writing on early Texas history also resulted in an invitation to serve on the editorial advisory board of John H. Jenkins’s ten-volume The Papers of the Texas Revolution.
His interest in the colonization work of Sterling C. Robertson, his great-great-grandfather, stretched back at least to 1939. It was in part driven by the need to demonstrate not only that his ancestor had not received proper credit for the settlement of the Central Texas region in the 1830s but that Stephen F. Austin and Samuel Williams had conspired to rob Robertson of his colonization grant. The first three volumes of the Papers Concerning Robertson’s Colony in Texas appeared between 1974 and 1976 from the Texas Christian University Press. Subsequent volumes appeared regularly though 1993 from the University of Texas at Arlington Press, which McLean founded shortly after his arrival at his new academic home in 1976.
At UT Arlington McLean was professor of history and Spanish until 1983, when he retired from teaching to devote his efforts to research and publication activities. As director and later head of the Robertson Colony Collection at UT Arlington until his full retirement in 1992, he also continued publishing in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly among other publications. After retirement he contributed articles to the New Handbook of Texas and, with his son as editor, published a translation of Voices from the Goliad Frontier: Municipal Council Minutes, 1821–1835 (2008).
McLean received considerable recognition both in Texas and Mexico for his historical, genealogical, and Spanish-language publications. He was elected president of the Texas Foreign Language Association in 1964 and became an honorary member in 1974. McLean was inducted a fellow of the Texas State Historical Association in 1967 and went on to win its Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize for volume 1 of the Papers Concerning the Robertson Colony in Texas, which also won awards from the Sons of the Republic of Texas and the Texas Historical Foundation. In 1982 he was awarded the Captain Alonso de León Steel Medal for Historic Merit, International Category, by the Sociedad Nuevoleonesa de Historia, Geografía y Estadística, and in 1986 he received the Gold Medal and Diploma as Corresponding Member in Texas to the Mexican National Academy of History and Geography. He was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters in 1994.
Malcolm Dallas McLean died on January 19, 2012, in Georgetown, Texas. He was buried in the Robertson Plantation family cemetery in Salado, Texas.