Walter Prescott Webb became one of the best known interpreters of the American West following the publication of The Great Plains in 1931. That book remained one of the outstanding studies of the region for decades and attracted considerable attention over the years for its unusual emphasis on the impact of geographic factors on the process of settlement. Using manuscript sources, some of which had not previously been available, Gregory M. Tobin has traced the elements that went into the planning and writing of The Great Plains and that account for its distinctive approach to the writing of a regional history.
Tobin emphasizes two aspects of Webb's life that molded the historian's outlook: his early family life and community connections in West Texas and his admiration for the ideas of scholar Lindley Miller Keasbey. Webb reacted strongly against the assumption that the only cultural values of any real worth emanated from the urban and sophisticated East; he was determined to write the history of his own people in a way that would reveal the scale of their anonymous contribution to American civilization. By reverting to Keasbey's stress on the relationship between natural environment and social institutions, Webb broadened his study to take in what he believed to be a distinct geographic environment. The result was The Great Plains, an assertion of individual and regional identity by a man with a personal stake in establishing the image of a distinctive Plains civilization.
Although The Making of a History is not a full biography of Walter Prescott Webb, it is the first biographically oriented study of a man regarded as one of the twentieth century's major western historians. It places his development within the framework of his intellectual and social setting and, in a sense, subjects his career to the same type of scrutiny that he advocated as the basis of the study of evolving cultures.