How the Dallas History Conference got its start

Dallas has a rich history. Perhaps surprisingly for a relatively young city, it also has quite a few historical organizations devoted to preserving aspects of that history. In 1998, when Gary Smith, President and Executive Director of Dallas Heritage Village, suggested to me the idea of organizing a conference devoted to local history, I was immediately intrigued. Our semi-annual regional history journal, Legacies, had thrived for nearly ten years, partly because it was a collaborative effort among several historical groups. These and other similar groups might find a conference a perfect project through which to promote local history.

Gary and I contacted staff members at five other historical organizations, all of whom were enthusiastic about the idea. The Executive Director of Preservation Dallas suggested we look at the Scottish Rite Cathedral as a possible site—a beautiful historic structure which had probably not been visited by many in our potential audience. The Cathedral was generous in providing space, but only one date during the fall of 1999 was available, so we took it. A local foundation provided some seed money, enabling us to keep registration fees modest. We issued a call for proposals and received more than thirty; we selected thirteen. I hoped for 150 registrants; we had more than 200. We were off to a good start.

The next year, six more historical groups asked to join the project, and we have enjoyed the support of about a dozen each year since. For several years, we stuck with the fall date, but our numbers began to slip because of too many competing activities. So in 2006 we switched to January, and attendance immediately began to climb. Last year more than 300 people participated.

Over the years, we’ve held the conference at various venues—SMU, the Central Library, Hockaday School, the Old Red Courthouse, the Hyatt Regency Dallas Hotel, Dallas City Hall, even the new Dallas Police Headquarters. Each had its advantages. But now we’ve settled into what is arguably the most impressive historical structure in Dallas, the Hall of State at Fair Park, home of the Dallas Historical Society. With a comfortable lecture hall, spacious Great Hall for refreshments and book dealers, and plenty of free parking, it accommodates the conference perfectly.

Thanks to the generous support of institutional sponsors and individual patrons, and the hard work of a corps of volunteers, we have been able to keep basic registration at a modest $30, and yet the Annual Legacies Dallas History Conference always breaks even. It even provides a bonus, in the form of interesting and well researched papers that are subsequently published in Legacies magazine.

It just shows that local history is alive and appreciated in Dallas.

This year’s conference, “Defining the Spirit of Dallas” will be on Saturday, January 28. The registration deadline is January 20. For more details, click here: Eventsl

–Guest Author Michael Hazel, PhD and conference organizer

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