Subject Category Descriptions

Revised Subject Pyramid

Entries in the Handbook of Texas Online are presented with each entry heading in boldface type. The entry titles for biographical entries and battles are inverted. In addition, editorial approach to broad subjects suggested a three-tiered pyramid. At the top, a general essay on a major topic such as HEALTH AND MEDICINE provides an overview of the subject and refers the reader to more specific, related entries such as EPIDEMIC DISEASES, MEDICAL EDUCATION, and MEDICAL RESEARCH. In the next tier, the "mid-level" entry on medical education, for example, provides increased detail on the historical development of medical schools in Texas and leads the reader to third-level entries on specific schools, hospitals, doctors, organizations, and events. This pyramidal structure works in reverse fashion as well; internal links lead readers from individual entries to related entries at a more general level.

Physical features, Communities, and Counties

Three of the major categories of entries in the Handbook of Texas Online are physical features, communities, and counties. The 4,200 physical features, 7,200 communities, and 254 counties make up a significant portion of the encyclopedia. Many excellent physical feature, community, and county entries have been written by volunteers, students, and staff. During the initial planning for regional coverage during the preparation of the publication of the six-volume New Handbook of Texas (1996), our advisory editor for local history and the project staff developed what became known internally as the "county writing system." A staff writer, given a list of all topics pertaining to a given county, went to a series of standard sources, supplemented by county and community histories, and revised the list of communities and physical features for the county before writing the entries. The system worked particularly well for towns; the editors identified thousands of small school, church, and store communities missed in the first edition of the Handbook. The effort to identify past communities as well as new locales continues to the present day.

The current online Handbook includes comprehensive coverage of the physical features across Texas, including summits, waterways, physical regions, and other miscellaneous features.  For watercourses, the editors also chose to supplement previous coverage with entries on streams and reservoirs listed on the 1:500,000 United States Geological Survey maps. Physical feature entries locate features by their coordinates and by their distance from communities readily identifiable on county highway maps. The source of the feature's name and evidence of historical usage of the site is included when available. Guideline information includes the length and direction of flow of all watercourses, as well as the topography and vegetation of the terrain through which they flow. The length of all streams was measured on topographical maps from the United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey. For mountains the Handbook provides elevation, often in comparison to the surrounding terrain. Entries about lakes include the purpose of the reservoir and a description of the dam, as well as its construction history.

In entries about physical features—mountains, canyons, streams, bodies of water, and so forth—and in other entries, such as those about counties, that include physical description, the editors and writers have used as much precision as practical. Nevertheless, the directions, acreages, elevations, distances, coordinates, and other parameters of physical geographical description in the Handbook, including verbal designations of location, are only approximations. Analogously, descriptions of soils, florae, and faunae include only salient elements and are not intended to be exhaustive.

Because communities are central to the historical development of Texas the Handbook includes an entry on every community in the state's history about which the editors and researchers were able to find significant information. The defining criterion was the presence of two focuses of community life, such as a church, school, store, cemetery, or post office. The editors attempted, however, to be as inclusive as possible, adding any community that was identified as such in local-history sources, regardless of the focus. Community entries generally locate the town in its county by distance from the county seat or another readily identifiable community, and in relation to roads, railroads, and prominent physical features. The rest of the entry is a chronological historical narrative, often beginning with site usage prior to the establishment of the community and ending with either the community's demise or the most recent population figures. Most entries focus on the development of town institutions and businesses, the growth and decline of population, the impact of transportation developments on a community's fortunes, the role of the town in the surrounding rural area, and dramatic events in the history of the community. Population figures, taken from the Texas Almanac, are based when possible upon census data. Recent developments have underscored the fact that no population count is completely accurate.

In county entries, the physical descriptions of counties are based on standard cartographic sources, not on, for instance, historical narratives. County history, for the most part, is heavily weighted toward economic and demographic developments, since such emphasis seems to be the most efficient way to discuss the inhabitants and what they were doing most of the time without producing hopelessly lengthy entries. Because of the variations in coverage, accuracy, and availability of published county histories, the Handbook of Texas Online depends fairly heavily on the United States population, agricultural, and manufacturing censuses in county entries. As a result, most county entries will take the reader through the flow of immigration into the county, the racial makeup of its population at different times, and the relative importance of cotton, wheat, sharecropping, ranching, cattle, sheep, oil, and the other main industries and features of county economy and society. The county entries also supplement coverage of ethnic minority topics by discussing demographics and the impact of race on economics, education, and politics at the county level.

Other Categories

Other general categories of entries in the Handbook of Texas Online cover a wide range of subjects, including ranches, religious bodies, organizations, museums, historical events, archeological sites, and numerous smaller categories. These categories include:

1. Educational institutions.

All degree-granting institutions of higher education are represented by entries. Extant institutions are entered under their most current names, and successive name changes are given in the entries. Most of the discussion of education at the local level is in the relevant town and county entries and in entries on the educational efforts of religious groups. A number of nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century private academies, as well as a number of private religious schools, are the subjects of their own entries.

2. Railroads.

Every railroad chartered and constructed in Texas is represented by an entry. Railroad entries cover the date of chartering, a list of the initial board of directors, an account of additions and deletions to the line, and a discussion of successive mergers and consolidations.

3. Oilfields.

The oilfields covered in the Handbook of Texas include only the largest and the most historically significant.

4. Businesses.

Business coverage in the Handbook of Texas is drawn from the three categories of largest, earliest, and representative. Many of the largest business enterprises that have been active in the state (wherever they might actually be chartered) are covered, including most airlines and most of the important oil companies. A number of early businesses, including many of the largest and most historically significant plantations and ranches, are included, as are many of the great mercantile establishments. The Handbook also includes representative entries on insurance companies, supermarket chains, manufacturers, and businesses that extract and process minerals besides oil and gas.

5. Newspapers.

Most of the major newspapers in the state, most of the earliest, and many of the longest in continual operation are included. Many county seat and small town newspapers not represented by entries of their own are mentioned in the relevant town and county entries.

6. Government.

The state government of Texas is covered by a general overview on GOVERNMENT. Additionally, every major state agency is treated in a separate entry, as are state and county offices such as ATTORNEY GENERAL and SHERIFF. Many minor state agencies fall under the category of EXAMINING BOARDS.

7. Sites.

The Handbook of Texas includes an entry on each of the Texas state parks, state historic sites, and state wildlife-management areas. Every national park, national historic site, national forest, national grassland, and national wildlife refuge is the subject of an entry. Many sites, whether under state or federal jurisdiction, are centered on missions, presidios, or forts, all of which are represented by entries. Parks are continually being added to the state system, and the reader should consult the Texas Almanac for a current list.