August 31, 2010

In Memoriam, David Weber

by Tisa Wenger

This has become a summer of loss—of the passing of giants in the history of the American west. As many of you reading this blog will already have heard, David Weber, who defined the field of southwest borderlands history, died at his home in New Mexico on August 20 after a long battle with multiple myeloma.

I first encountered Weber’s work in a graduate seminar on Religion in the Colonial Atlantic World. Although his primary interests were not in religion, his book The Spanish Frontier in North America (1992) included a wonderful chapter on the role of missionaries in the northern frontiers of colonial New Spain. More important, the groundbreaking quality of his work—its incisive treatment of a subject largely ignored by previous generations of historians—swept away a whole host of misconceptions and helped us all see why the borderlands mattered as an integral part of U.S. history. His work helped inauguarate the now thriving field of borderlands studies, and helped a new generation of American historians understand our work in the larger context of the western hemisphere.

A few years after that seminar, I was privileged to learn to know David when I held a postdoctoral research fellowship at Southern Methodist University’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies, which he founded and directed. Coming to SMU as a relative outsider to the worlds of western history and the southwest borderlands, I was deeply grateful for David’s welcoming kindness. He was a generous mentor to me, during and well beyond that fellowship year—as he has been to many others—and we will all miss him.

David was the author of more than seventy articles, and wrote or edited twenty-seven books. He was past president of the Western History Association, and the only American historian elected to membership in both the Mexican Academy of History and the Society of American Historians. In May 2003, he was knighted by order of the King of Spain, receiving the Encomienda de la Orden de Isabel La Católica; and in February 2005 he was named to membership in the Orden Mexicana del Águila Azteca (the Order of the Aztec Eagle), the highest award the Mexican government bestows on foreign nationals.

David is survived by his wife, Carol Bryant Weber of Dallas, a son and daughter-in-law, a daughter, three grandchildren, and three siblings. Memorial services will be held in Dallas, with details forthcoming on the SMU website at Rest in peace, David Weber.