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In Memoriam: David B. Gracy II

The Briscoe Center pays tribute to David B. Gracy II, who died in Austin, Texas on September 26, 2020. Gracy was a renowned archivist and historian, who contributed to the work of the Briscoe Center, where his papers are placed.

“For nearly 45 years, David and I were colleagues working for the cause of history. He was not only a first-class professional archivist, teacher, and historian; he was a good, kind, and generous man who was deeply dedicated to his profession,” said Don Carleton, executive director at the Briscoe Center.

Gracy was born in 1941 in Austin, Texas. He attended local schools until eighth grade when he enrolled in the Sewanee Military Academy in Tennessee. The joy of history awoke in him at the age of 15 while on a school trip to Shiloh battlefield in Tennessee. Coming back to Austin, he pursued a BA and MA in History at the University of Texas, followed by a Ph.D. in History at Texas Tech University. While he was a graduate student at UT, Gracy worked at the Barker Texas History Center (one of the predecessor units of the Briscoe Center) on Dr. Chester Kielman’s project to compile a catalog of the Barker Center’s collections. The University of Texas Press published the catalog in 1967 as The University of Texas Archives.  In 1971, he moved to Atlanta, working on pathbreaking archival projects at Georgia State University. Later, he was elected president of the Society of Georgia Archivists.

In 1977 he returned to Texas to direct the Texas State Archives and became a leader in the Texas archival community. In 1980, while still serving as director of the state archives, he was invited to teach courses at UT’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science (now the UT School of Information.) In 1983 he was elected president of the Society of American Archivists. In 1986, he became the Governor Bill Daniel Professor in Archival Enterprise at UT and developed a full curriculum in "archival enterprise," a term he popularized.

“During the more than 20 years that I taught my graduate seminar, Historical Research Methods and Sources, for the University’s Department of History, David encouraged many of his talented students to enroll in the course,” added Carleton. “In addition, he generously accepted my numerous invitations to speak to the class. A few of those students later took important positions at the Briscoe Center.”

During Gracy’s career, he taught workshops across the globe and consulted across a diverse set of organizations. He served on several state and national boards. An author of many articles on information science and archival enterprise, he published a number of books including Littlefield Lands: Colonization on the Texas Plains, 1912-1920 (1960); Moses Austin: His Life (1986); and The State Library and Archives of Texas: A History, 1835-1962 (2010).

Among his recognitions, Gracy was elected Fellow of the Society of American Archivists, the Texas State Historical Association, and the Society of Georgia Archivists. He also received a Society of American Archivists Council Exemplary Service Award for Lifetime Achievement and was made an "Honorary Daughter of the Republic of Texas" in 2017—for his decades of service protecting and preserving the history of the Republic of Texas.

He retired in 2011. In 2014, he gave the Littlefield Lectures at UT. And in 2019, he published, A Man Absolutely Sure of Himself: Texan George Washington Littlefield, the culmination of a lifetime of work.  The life of Littlefield—his great, great uncle, a Confederate veteran (who fought at Shiloh), a rancher, banker, and UT Regent –was of constant interest to him throughout his life.

Gracy donated his papers to the Briscoe Center in 2010. The papers consist of materials used in his work at the UT School of Information and as the Texas State Archivist. They include manuscripts, printed materials, photographic negatives, computer files, and VHS tapes related to Gracy's study of the José Enrique de la Peña historical manuscript. In addition, the Britton Collection of Texana contains papers written by his students for his “Forged Historical Documents” seminar that he taught at UT. Gracy also contributed to the center’s renovation fund, a project that came to fruition in 2017. He was a true friend of the Briscoe Center.

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