Weber, David J. (1940–2010)

By: Jesús "Frank" de la Teja

Type: Biography

Published: August 27, 2013

Updated: August 3, 2020

David J. Weber, borderlands historian, author, and educator, was born on December 20, 1940, to Theodore Carl and Frances Jean (Moranska) Weber in Buffalo, New York. His family lived in the suburb of Cheektowaga, where he attended Catholic and public schools until graduating from Maryvale High School in 1958. Athletically and musically inclined, he attended the State University of New York at Fredonia with the intention of obtaining a degree in music education. Recognizing that his limited musical talent held out little hope for a career as a music teacher, he decided to turn his attention to the social sciences. In 1962 he graduated from Fredonia and shortly afterwards married Carol Bryant.

In fall 1962 Weber enrolled in the master’s program in history at the University of New Mexico, where he continued on to doctoral studies. He was a student of Donald Cutter, who steered him in the direction of the early southwestern fur trade. He was awarded a Ph.D. in 1967 and immediately obtained a tenure-track position teaching Latin American and borderlands history at San Diego State College. By this time Weber was the father of son Scott, and daughter Amy was born shortly after the family’s arrival in California.

At San Diego State, Weber, who had already published two edited volumes and an article, published his first monograph, The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540–1846, which appeared in 1971. That was followed by a collection of documents regarding the Hispanic experience in the Southwest, Foreigners in Their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexican Americans (1973). In 1970 he was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Lectureship to the University of Costa Rica; the same year he was promoted to associate professor. A prolific writer and accomplished teacher, he was promoted to full professor three years later.

Weber arrived in Texas in 1976. The prominent Yale historian of the American West, Howard Lamar, who had taken notice of the accomplished young borderlands scholar, recommended him for a position in regional history at Southern Methodist University. At the Dallas school, where he spent the rest of his career, Weber served as department chair beginning in 1978. He helped to bring the Book Club of Texas to campus, co-founded with DeGolyer Library director David Farmer the Library of Texas, and helped organize a campus chapter of Westerners International. Upon stepping down as department chairman in 1986, he was appointed the first Robert H. and Nancy Dedman Chair in History.

Most importantly for the university and for the study of borderlands generally, Weber founded the Clements Center for Southwest Studies and helped organize the doctoral program in history. The idea of a program in Southwest studies occurred to him at least by 1991, at first as an undergraduate minor but subsequently growing into a research and publications program. Endowments by former Governor William Clements to endow the center and to establish a doctoral program allowed Weber to open the center in 1996 and participate in the recruitment of the first Ph.D. class soon thereafter.

During his tenure at SMU Weber produced two of the most important works in borderlands historiography. In 1982 his The Mexican Frontier, 1821–1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico, part of Ray Allen Billington and Howard Lamar’s Histories of the American Frontier series of the University of New Mexico Press, redefined the field of borderlands research by studying the region as a unit in the period following Mexican independence. The Mexican Frontier received numerous national, regional, and state awards including the Friends of the Dallas Public Library Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. Spanish-language editions were published in both Mexico and Spain.

Ten years later his The Spanish Frontier in North America appeared as part of Yale University Press’s Western Americana Series. In this work he abandoned the Herbert Bolton school’s emphasis on institutions and argued against what he referred to as the “hispanophobic” nature of much of American historiography. Recognitions for Spanish Frontier included being named a New York Times notable book of 1992, listing as a History Book Club selection, and earning the Premio España y América from the Spanish Ministry of Culture. A Spanish-language edition was published in Mexico in 2000.

A prolific author and editor, Weber was also active professionally at the state, regional, national, and international levels. Although Weber published only once in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, he was a member of the Texas State Historical Association and served on the board of directors and as chair of the membership committee in 1984–85 and of the Fellows committee in 1988 and 1989. He subsequently served on the board of advisory editors to the Handbook of Texas and on the Handbook advisory committee. He was president of the Western History Association in 1990–91. In 1990 he was president of the eighth Conference of North American and Mexican Historians and from 2008 to 2011 served as vice president of the Professional Division of the American Historical Association. Weber also served on the governing bodies of various organizations and journals in the United States, Spain, Mexico, and Argentina. Along with the Fulbright-Hays lectureship, he was the recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Huntington Library, and the Beinecke Library. In 2005 he was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle by the Mexican government, and in 2007 he was given membership into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

David J. Weber died of multiple myeloma on August 20, 2010, in Gallup, New Mexico.

Patrick L. Cox and Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr., eds., Writing the Story of Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013). Dallas Morning News, August 28, 2010. “David J. Weber, distinguished SMU professor and historian, dies,” News & Faculty Experts, Southern Methodist University (, accessed August 20, 2013. New York Times, August 27, 2010.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Historians
  • Nonfiction
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jesús "Frank" de la Teja, “Weber, David J.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022,

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August 27, 2013
August 3, 2020

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