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“Galveston: A History and a Guide” by D. McComb Essay

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Updated: Jul 6th, 2021

Specifics of Infrastructure in Galveston

The questions of infrastructure and city development are extremely important for the history of Galveston because this city seems to be always at risk of destruction due to natural disasters. The reason for this statement is Galveston’s location as a port city. From this perspective, the purpose of the essay is to discuss special features of the city’s infrastructure with the focus on political leaders’ actions, city plans, and current issues.

The Great Galveston Storm of 1900 was the major natural event that influenced the further development of the city and its infrastructure as it was almost destroyed because of the disaster. That storm was the most influential for the city, but minor hurricanes and storms were also typical of the region, making the city authorities pay more attention to the construction of protective buildings and strengthening roads.1 As a result, the authorities developed a specific city plan to locate new hospitals and schools, as well as governmental buildings and roads, in the safest parts of this port. In his work, McComb refers to the data from newspapers, statistical reports, books, journal articles, and interviews in order to support his conclusions.2 Thus, the author’s discussion of the city’s infrastructure is based on both primary and secondary sources of information.

The inability of the city authorities to respond adequately to the Great Galveston Storm of 1900 and later hurricanes allows some researchers to state that political leaders did not realize all their potential in order to assist in developing effective infrastructure plans. It was important to develop plans regarding security and preventive measures, the distribution of funds in case of disasters, and the plan of reconstruction of activities.3 Still, the history of the city demonstrates that political leaders were more oriented to Galveston’s expansion and growth as a powerful port in the region, and the structure of the municipality was changed to refocus on securing the city.

The experience of Galveston in addressing the risk of hurricanes and storms was also taken into account by other city of the United States in order to develop their infrastructure plans. Thus, the ideas of building seawalls and floodgates and constructing houses only at a certain acceptable level above the sea were also realized in other cities of the country. The use of sand and floodgates in Galveston demonstrated how it is possible to protect the city from waves.4 However, there are still issues associated with the city’s plan: more attention should be paid to expanding the seawall, improving a drainage system, and constructing new elevated roads because risks of storms remain to be high for Galveston.

From this perspective, it is possible to state that the experience of Galveston in addressing hurricanes allowed the city officials to focus on designing effective infrastructure and city development plans. Although some of the initiatives were not effective enough, the most successful ones were easily replicated in other cities. As a result, preventive measures tested in Galveston became actively used in other regions of the United States.

The Culture of Galveston

Galveston can be discussed as a unique city of the Gulf Coast because of its history of development and growth, as well as because of numerous impacts on its cultural and social life. Diversity is a key concept that is associated with Galveston when speaking about its culture. The purpose of this essay is to discuss the distinctive character of Galveston’s culture, focus on classes and ethnicities living in this city, and describe the process of the development of its culture.

Initially, the island was settled by Native Americans, but further arrivals of colonists from Spain, France, the United States, and Mexico contributed to forming a specific culture of Galveston that became distinct from the rest of the Gulf Coast. The reason was in diversity observed in the city. Although different colonists influenced the development of the culture in Galveston, their traditions were combined without displacing each other.5 As a result of its historical development, Galveston became the main cosmopolitan city of the region.

It is possible to state that a specific culture of the city is shared by all classes and ethnicities that formed a unique diverse core of this region. For example, segregation in this city was not as obvious as it is in other towns of the United States, and the difference in status was mainly accentuated in social terms, not cultural ones.6 Thus, sharing the same culture, gangsters and leaders of the gambling industry possessed the higher status in society in the middle part of the twentieth century (Figure 1).

The casino ship in Galveston.
Figure 1. The casino ship in Galveston.7.

From this perspective, the culture of Galveston evolved along with the people’s response to numerous diverse cultural impacts on their life. In the 16th-19th centuries, citizens of Galveston adopted the elements of the European cultures of colonists that seemed to displace the aboriginal culture in that region. In the 19th-20th centuries, the focus became on developing Galveston as the US city with the elements of the Mexican influence.8 It is possible to state that there is a positive correlation between the early and later cultures in this region because of a direct impact of the early culture, immigration, and trade on the city’s modern culture and trends in development.

Active trade and international contacts also made the culture of the city unique, and one should note that it is still distinct from other cities of the Gulf Coast. One of the key reasons is the presence of culturally and ethnically diverse communities that share their own values and traditions. Moreover, the impact of new trends on the city is still high because the city’s port can be viewed as the entrance for all new tendencies associated with technologies, culture, social life, and economics among other aspects. Today, thousands of people come to Galveston in order to make sure that this port city is unique in its culture and traditions based on an impressive history.

Scholarship Regarding McComb’s Book

In spite of the fact that McComb’s book is viewed as one of the classical sources on the history of Galveston, there are different researchers’ opinions regarding this work. Moreover, many authors presented their own investigations of the history of Galveston’s development with reference to McComb’s work. The purpose of this essay is to discuss the existing critique on McComb’s book and analyze the sources used by the author to conduct his study.

In their reviews published when the book became available to audience, scholars highly value the quality of the work with reference to the research conducted by McComb and the approach used by the author to present his findings.9 According to Wooster, the author “effectively balances anecdotes, legends, and trivia with careful research and analysis to place Galveston within its larger context.”10 In his turn, Barth focused on visuals used in the books: “Four maps, three graphs, and about two dozen photos add spatial and demographic dimensions and enrich the imagery of the story.”11 While focusing on these positive responses to McComb’s work, it is almost impossible to state that one scholarly critique is more effective than the other, and one can agree with all the studied comments that accentuate the value, importance, and validity of McComb’s book.

In order to conduct the effective research, McComb used a range of primary and secondary sources, including statistical data and information from archives, documents, letters, and memoirs. He also referred to the interviews with the citizens of the city. Moreover, the author also used articles from newspapers, journal articles, and other books or results of studies in order to support his conclusions.12 From this point, primary sources can be viewed as the most essential ones for historical research, and they were actively applied by the author to his work.

Concluding about the research on Galveston’s history, it is possible to note that McComb’s work is not the only example of an effective study on this topic. Other important scholarly books include the following works: Bernard Marinbach’s Galveston: Ellis Island of the West, Gary Cartwright’s Galveston: A History of the Island, and Susan Wiley Hardwick’s Mythic Galveston: Reinventing America’s Third Coast. These books were written on the history of Galveston from the perspective of the city’s development based on the periods of its prosperity and decline that were associated with natural disasters, trade, and economic crises among other different important factors.

Bibliography

Barth, Gunther. “David G. McComb. Galveston: A History.” The American Historical Review 92, no. 4 (1987): 1042-1043.

Brownell, Blaine A. “Galveston: A History. By David G. McComb.” Journal of American History 74, no. 2 (1987): 520-521.

Horowitz, Andy. “The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror: Trauma, History, and the Great Storm of 1900.” Historical Reflections 41, no. 3 (2015): 95-108.

Digital image. Texas Hill Country. Web.

Lessoff, Alan. “The City in Texas: A History. By David G. McComb.” Western Historical Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2016): 79-80.

McComb, David G. Galveston: A History. 8th ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.

McComb, David. Galveston: A History and a Guide. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2000.

Smith, Tumbleweed. “About Time for a Trip to Galveston?” Ranch and Rural Living 97, no. 3 (2015): 4.

Wooster, Robert. “”Galveston: A History” by David C. McComb (Book Review).” Libraries and Culture 24, no. 2 (1989): 264.

Footnotes

  1. David G. McComb, Galveston: A History, 8th ed. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), 5-12.
  2. McComb, Galveston, 33-39.
  3. Andy Horowitz, “The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror: Trauma, History, and the Great Storm of 1900,” Historical Reflections 41, no. 3 (2015): 96-98.
  4. David McComb, Galveston: A History and a Guide (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2000), 4-7.
  5. Tumbleweed Smith, “About Time for a Trip to Galveston?,” Ranch and Rural Living 97, no. 3 (2015): 4.
  6. Alan Lessoff, “The City in Texas: A History. By David G. McComb,” Western Historical Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2016): 79.
  7. Jacks or Better, digital image, Texas Hill Country, Web.
  8. McComb, Galveston, 54-58.
  9. Blaine A. Brownell, “Galveston: A History. By David G. McComb,” Journal of American History 74, no. 2 (1987): 520.
  10. Robert Wooster, “”Galveston: A History” by David C. McComb (Book Review),” Libraries and Culture 24, no. 2 (1989): 264.
  11. Gunther Barth, “David G. McComb. Galveston: A History,” The American Historical Review 92, no. 4 (1987): 1042.
  12. McComb, Galveston, 1-4.
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