Walter Prescott Webb grew up in an impoverished area of western Texas, and he had little schooling until 1905, when his family, having had a good crop, moved from their farm to the town of Kent, Texas. In 1906, after a year of school in Kent, the future historian was granted a certificate to teach in rural schools. After a year of teaching he returned for a higher certificate from the normal school, continuing as a public school teacher. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1915, with an A.B. degree, taking his M.A. in 1920 and his Ph.D. in 1932 from the same university. He also did graduate work at the Universities of Wisconsin and Chicago. He had become an instructor at the University of Texas in 1918; he spent his career there, rising to the rank of professor by 1933.
He also had special appointments: He became a consulting historian for the National Park Service in 1937, and he was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1938; he was Harkness lecturer at the University of London in 1938 and Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University in 1942-1943. His fellow historians elected him president of the American Historical Association in 1958, the same year in which he received the award of the American Council of Learned Societies. He was also honored as a writer: His The Great Plains earned for him the Lonbat Prize from Columbia University. He received an honorary M.A. from Oxford in 1942, and a D.Litt. from Southern Methodist University in 1951.
As a writer Webb wanted to make westerners see what lay all about them. His historical theses were not altogether popular, sometimes offending southerners, sometimes fellow historians, sometimes chambers of commerce, sometimes corporations. He believed that his greatest work, done during the late 1950’s, was establishing a theory of European history (including the western hemisphere). Based upon the expansion of Europeans into America, Webb posited that the prosperity of all European civilization from 1500 to 1950 resulted from the American frontier. Webb’s death came just before he turned seventy-five, the result of an automobile crash.