Ask a consulting historian: Patrick Cox
20 February 2017 – editors
Patrick Cox, Ph.D., is an award-winning, nationally recognized historian, author, and conservationist. A sixth-generation Texan who resides with his wife Brenda in Wimberley, Texas, he is president of Patrick Cox Consultants, LLC. His firm specializes in historical research and projects for individuals, corporations, legal firms, and nonprofit organizations.
Describe how you first became interested in history.
I have been interested in American history since my childhood. Family trips usually involved trips to historic sites, state and national parks, and museums. My favorite books were American histories and biographies. Even today my friends and family insist that I regale them with engaging stories and historic anecdotes when we are having dinner or traveling together. Time and space do not allow for further elaboration, but there will always be future opportunities. I am also a former journalist and newspaper editor so I know all about word limitations. As for my formal education, I received my Ph.D. in history and B.A. in history from the University of Texas at Austin, and my M.A. in history with honors from Texas State University (formerly Southwest Texas State University). I was very proud to receive the Texas State University Distinguished Alumni Award in 2014. Over my career, I served as the editor of our family newspaper, The Wimberley View, as assistant land commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, and as associate director of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. I am the author of nine books and have published hundreds of articles and reviews on U.S. and southwestern history, natural resources, and conservation. I also serve on the boards of many nonprofit organizations involved with education, history, the environment, the arts, and service in the community.
When did you start consulting?
Following my retirement from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011, I wanted to stay involved as a professional historian and be more active in public history. I formed my limited liability corporation, Patrick Cox Consultants, LLC, which is based at the ranch headquarters in Wimberley, Texas, about thirty-five miles southwest of Austin. I encourage anyone interested in securing consulting contracts or providing historical services to incorporate as a business. This takes a little time and effort, but the benefits provide more opportunities and protection for your business, whether you will be working by yourself or have dozens of employees or subcontractors.
Do you specialize in a particular field of public history?
I devote most of my research, writing, and consulting work to political and cultural American history. I also conduct and direct oral history and historic preservation projects. I enjoy working with others on projects, spending time outdoors in the field on historic preservation projects, doing research in archives, and providing presentations to students, nonprofit groups, businesses, and friends on the importance and relevance of our history.
Describe an average day at work.
Coffee, a little more coffee, reading (mostly history, of course, but some current news), walks with my wife and our dogs, a little meditation, checking wildlife feeders, and working on the project du jour. I agree with many of my wise colleagues who believe that, when it comes to history, evolutionary thinking is both knowing and not knowing at the same time.
Describe your typical clients.
Nonprofit organizations, private corporations, legal firms, and government agencies.
Do you collaborate with other consulting historians?
Yes, definitely. I have worked on many collaborative efforts with other historians and employed subcontractors for specific tasks such as research and transcript services. And a lot of them are good friends as well as outstanding professionals. I also provide information and collaborate with the public history program at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.
Do you collaborate with professionals outside of public history?
Yes, I continue to work with and consult other academic and retired historians, government officials, university professors, active and retired professionals, attorneys, architects, and many others. They provide valuable information, advice, and contributions.
How do you handle the business aspects of your consulting work?
Leave this to the professionals. My LLC has professional accounting services for filing required reports and taxes, legal services for more complex contracts and agreements, and web professionals for website development and maintenance.
Describe some of your recent projects.
Current projects include: an organizational and oral history of distinguished and historic figures of Sam Houston Alumni, Delta Theta Phi Legal Fraternity, University of Texas at Austin; a biography on Tom Sealy, a distinguished attorney, University of Texas regent, civic and education leader; a National Register of Historic Places nomination of the W.W. Jones and the Jones Family Ranches of South Texas; and the Texas Dance Hall Preservation Association nonprofit organization’s strategic plan to recognize and protect historic dance halls. My recent publications are: Picturing Texas Politics (University of Texas Press, 2015); Ranching in the Wild Horse Desert (Grunwald Printing, 2014); and Writing the History of Texas (University of Texas Press, 2013), essays on famous Texas historians with their noteworthy contributions; “W.W. Jones of South Texas” in Texan Identities (University of North Texas Press, 2016) and “’Harry, the President is Dead’: Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas, Vice President Harry Truman and Congressman Lyndon Johnson at the ‘Board of Education’ on April 12, 1945,” to be included in Eavesdropping on Texas History (University of North Texas Press, 2017).
How do you seek new work?
I primarily rely on my network of colleagues, participation in professional historical associations, my involvement on numerous boards of nonprofit organizations (local, regional, and national). Having worked and been active in the field for many years, I am fortunate to have many contacts and a reputation for producing results based on solid research and analysis. I also try to have coffee or lunch with friends on a regular basis to share stories and friendship. In addition to my website, I have Facebook and LinkedIn accounts and try to update those on a regular basis. And I have been fortunate over the years to work with many engaging and inspiring people who are interested in providing our history to people from all walks of life.
~ This post is part of our “Ask a Consulting Historian” series, brought to you by the NCPH Consultants Committee. Follow the Consultants Committee on Twitter at @NCPHconsultants. You can find more “Ask a Practitioner” posts here.