Dedicated to advancing scholarly and public understanding of the past, present, and future of western North America, the Center supports research, teaching, and reporting about western land and life in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Center News and Notes

Seeking Summer Research Assistants

The Bill Lane Center for the American West is seeking to hire undergraduate researchers to join our research teams for "The California Coastal Commission: A New History of Environmental Politics" and the "Enchanting the Desert." More details and application information follow below.

Malibu Beach, CA, and the Grand Canyon, via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to our summer internships, the Bill Lane Center seeks four undergraduate research assistants to join us for an exciting summer of research. Projects run full time for 10 weeks through the summer quarter, with some starting in the spring term at 10 hours per week. Students will be compensated at the normal University rate for undergraduate RAs, and will have access to a vibrant community of scholars throughout their involvement with the Center. 

The California Coastal Commission: A New History of Environmental Politics

Established in 1972, the California Coastal Commission was a government/public agency established for the conservation and protection of the state’s coastal zone. This project seeks to uncover the history of this important agency, tracing how it changed over time, its regional variances, and its contributions to environmental policy—both past and present. We seek three undergraduate students with broad interests in western, political, and environmental history and policy who wish to strengthen their knowledge in these areas and contribute to a new exciting project through archival research. Read more about the position and how to apply here; applications are due February 22, 2015.

Enchanting the Desert

This project seeks to “enchant” the Grand Canyon region with a diversity of geographic information, augmenting Henry Peabody's photographs with detailed human history. Users experience the Grand Canyon from a variety of perspectives simultaneously, affording them the opportunity to read the landscape synthetically through interwoven commentaries. We seek students who bring practical knowledge or interest in programming and the development of interactive visualization tools to join photography and cartography for geographical research. Read more about the position and how to apply here; applications are due February 22, 2015.

Stanford Press Pioneers Digital Humanities Publication with "Born-Digital" Project

An annotated photograph on Nicholas Bauch's upcoming website, "Enchanting the Desert." Photo courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

The Center and CESTA postdoctoral researcher Nicholas Bauch has spent the last three years exploring the work of the early-20th-century photographer Henry Peabody, whose travelogue of the Grand Canyon is one of the earliest surviving such collections. Nick's research has led him from back-country hikes above the Colorado River to computer labs where he has geomapped and analyzed the photographs and their documentation of the canyon's features, while developing an interactive website presenting the photographs, analytical essays, and maps of the canyon. Nick says the site allows users to explore the geography on their own terms, in a way that "would be unwieldy on paper, but on a digital platform becomes seamlessly navigable."

In 2014, his work, "Enchanting the Desert," became the very first "born digital" project to be accepted for publication by the Stanford University Press. Nick has written a post today for the Press' blog expressing his elation that digital humanities ("DH") has been validated by a publisher.

Until now, no university press has been willing and/or able to critically peer-review and publish meaningful research projects that are “born-digital.” Because of SUP’s prescient digital publishing initiative, the gap between what DH scholars are making and the established pathways of traditional academic distribution and accreditation is now much, much smaller. Until now, this gap threatened the very survival of DH because there was no incentive for a group of researchers to spend their time building a digital platform to advance their arguments when there was always the looming pressure to do the “real work” of publishing.

Nick continues,

The SUP initiative is not only an outlet, but a lightning rod, announcing to the academic world that DH is, quite literally, official. The hope that I share with the editors and directors at SUP is that from this point forward you can use digital media to express ideas, and that—just like books—if they are deemed good ideas by professional peer-reviewers and editors, they might be published.

Applications Are Now Open for the Bill Lane Center's 2015 Summer Internships

World's Most Beautiful Office: Yosemite Valley. Photo: Heather Glenny, 2014 summer intern at the Yosemite Museum.

This year, we are pleased to offer 10 summer internships in the West. Students have the opportunity to work with national parks, nonprofit organizations, and private organizations on a variety of exciting projects. Many placements are with long-time partners, including two opportunities with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for the first time in five years.

Our summer opportunities are open to current and graduating undergraduate students. We offer fantastic opportunities for students seeking to explore careers in natural history, conservation, land use, museum curation, resource management, and related fields. Internships are 10 weeks (exact dates may be negotiated with the host organization) and compensated with stipends to help cover living expenses, including housing, transportation, and food.

Applications are due on February 6, 2015.

Current Openings

Internship Organization
Historic Preservation Intern, Fort Mason
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Historic Preservation Intern, Alcatraz
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Environmental Modeling Intern Henry's Fork Foundation
Sales and Marketing Intern Heyday
Legislative Studies Intern
National Conference of State Legislatures
Resilient Landscapes Program Intern
San Francisco Estuary Institute
Archeology Intern
Yellowstone National Park
Curatorial Intern Yellowstone National Park
Museum Intern
Yosemite National Park
Archives & Records Management Intern Yosemite National Park

Understanding Crisis and Resilience in California's Housing Markets

Photo: Stockton, California street in 2008, cc licensed from Inman News service via Flickr

Hugo Lefebvre was a visiting scholar at the Center in 2013 and 2014, supported by the Fulbright and Palladio foundations. A researcher in geography and geopolitics, he is continuing his work at the University of Paris Dauphine’s department of Real Estate and Urban Planning. In this post for the Center, he describes his work exploring the roots of the foreclosure crisis in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

My work at the Bill Lane Center extended and completed my doctoral research on the housing crisis in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. In the decade preceding the Great Recession, this region experienced very fast urban growth, fueled by the out-migration of people from the San Francisco Bay Area. When the crisis started, the San Joaquin Valley was devastated by foreclosures, experiencing one of the highest rates in the nation. This sudden collapse was unforeseen, and it caused major problems for cities that had based their fiscal expectations on continuing urban growth.

In my doctoral research, I had found that urban growth and foreclosures are correlated. This association is in part structural: many people who moved into the valley during this period of fast urban growth were sold subprime loans. Indeed, such mortgages were extremely frequent at the time – especially because lenders and brokers promoted them to home buyers (particularly minorities) even when they could have obtained better loans. I also concluded that the competition between local administrations for potential tax revenues reduced their incentive to manage urban growth in the valley before the crisis. This explained why the valley grew so fast, and also the explosion of foreclosures after the crisis started. 

During my time at the Bill Lane Center, I studied the evolution of the San Francisco Bay Area in order to measure and better understand its resilience after the housing crisis. Several scholars have recently argued that American cities are experiencing a major restructuring. They claim that, after more than 70 years of suburbanization, peripheral areas are not attractive anymore — for demographic, cultural and economic reasons — and that people are moving back to center cities. Of course, gentrification is not a new phenomenon (the term was coined 50 years ago, in 1964), but the decline (or the perception of the decline) of second-ring suburbs and exurbs certainly is. The Northern San Joaquin Valley – ground zero for foreclosures – is a perfect laboratory to test this hypothesis. 

Looking Back at a Productive 2014

Photograph: Snow in Yosemite Valley, Dec. 13, 2014 (Christopher Michel via Flickr)

Along with the Stanford University campus, The Bill Lane Center for the American West shut down on Friday, December 19 for winter recess until January 5. As we approach the end of 2014, we offer the following reflections from the Center's faculty director, Professor Bruce E. Cain. 

The Bill Lane Center for the American West continues to flourish, thanks to the generosity and wise counsel of its Advisory Council members and friends. Your support enables our many activities on behalf of Stanford’s students and community. Capping a notable year, the Eccles family established a $4 million gift to endow the Center’s directorship. I and my successors will henceforth be known as the Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director. Among the many benefits of this gift, the Center will be able to perpetuate and expand the annual Rural West conference and related projects. Launched by the Center’s founding director, David M. Kennedy, the Rural West Initiative promotes education, study and outreach about this often-neglected but critical portion of our region. The Eccles gift will also enable us to deepen our network with other universities in western states.

The Center’s Advisory Council has been strengthened by the addition of two new members: Bob Ducommun and Martha Wyckoff. Bob is a fourth-generation Californian and a 1973 graduate of Stanford (majoring in history). He is a director of Ducommun Incorporated, which is the oldest ongoing business in California. It was started in Los Angeles as a general store and trade station by his great-grandfather in 1849. Bob assures us that he will be in training this winter on the streets of New York for our annual Stanford to the Sea hike. Martha is a Seattle-based community investor who contributes her time, energy and resources to land conservation, the arts, the environment and civic engagement. She served on the national board of the Trust for Public Land from 1996 to 2009, and is currently an emeritus board member. In addition, Martha has embarked on a project to co-author a full life biography of John A. McCone, a notable California industrialist and 20th-century public servant.

Last year at this time, we were preparing an ambitious interdisciplinary course on the American West. The new course, launched in spring quarter, was an instant success, attracting over 100 undergraduates. Taught by five senior professors in such divergent fields as English, art history, history, political science, and civil and environmental engineering, it examined distinctive western themes such as water scarcity and economic boom-and-bust cycles from different disciplinary perspectives. We will be offering this course again in spring 2015. We also designed and launched a new Sophomore College class entitled Energy in the West. During this three-week course, held just before the beginning of fall quarter, students learned about different types of fossil-fuel and green-energy technologies, and how government policies shape their development. After a week of on-campus lectures, the class went to Wyoming, the Energy State, visiting policy makers and energy sites on a 1,500-mile journey over a two-week period. Planning has already begun for a course next year that will focus on energy in the Southwest.

Many of Stanford’s talented undergraduates try to have at least one experience undertaking original research before they graduate. Some are testing out the idea of pursuing a PhD, but most are seeking valuable skills that can be used in the modern workplace. Last year, 22 students worked for the Center as research assistants on the following projects: the history and efficacy of the California Coastal Commission, an analysis of state water plans, digital cartographic accompaniments to an exhibition of Carleton Watkins photographs at the Cantor Arts Center, a Grand Canyon digital humanities project, Native American tribal governance, the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project, California conservation history, humans and biodiversity in Stanford’s green spaces, and geo-engineering the American West. This year, several of these projects will continue, plus we have added research assistantships on parole hearings for California's “lifer” inmates and on defining fragmentation in metropolitan communities.

Sophomores Traverse Wyoming in 'Energy in the West' Course

A dragline excavator removes topsoil from an open-pit coal mine in the Powder River Basin, WY. Photograph courtesy of Sally Benson.

What happens when we turn on the light switches in our home? Where does that energy come from, and how does it remain available 24/7? As the second- and 10th-largest energy producer in the United States and in the world, respectively, Wyoming provided a unique backdrop for the Bill Lane Center for the American West's 2014 Sophomore College course.

On a 1,500-mile tour around the state, students observed its large seams of coal (some more than 100 feet thick) and one of the largest gas fields discovered in the United States in the early 1990s, among other energy resources. They also learned how extraction of these natural resources has complex relationships with the state's politics, economics and culture.

Through Stanford's intensive three-week Sophomore College program, the Bill Lane Center takes 12 students into the West each autumn to study a particular topic in depth. This year's journey was led by professors Sally Benson (energy resources engineering), Bruce Cain (political science), and David Freyberg (civil and environmental engineering) with the help of graduate students Grayson Badgley (environmental earth system science) and Sherri Billimoria (earth systems). The students met with operators, regulators, and politicians at both the state and federal levels to understand Wyoming's energy landscape. We are excited to share their stories, photos and final projects with you.

With Visually Striking Series on Ocean Acidification, The Seattle Times Wins Knight-Risser Prize

Photograph: Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times

The reporter Craig Welch and photographer Steve Ringman of The Seattle Times have been named winners of the 2014 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. Their series, “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn,” examines and illuminates ocean acidification, the lesser-known twin of global warming.

“Aquifer at Risk,” by Ian James and Jay Calderon of The Desert Sun, was honored by the judges with a Special Citation. Judges commended it as a well-researched and clearly written series that deepened the public's understanding and resulted in local discussion and action.

The Knight-Risser Prize recognizes the best environmental reporting on the North American West — from Canada through the United States to Mexico. Named for James Risser, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and director emeritus of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford, the prize is co-sponsored by the Knight Fellowships and the Bill Lane Center for the American West, with an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

The prize includes a cash award of $5,000, and the winner participates in the annual Knight-Risser Prize Symposium, which brings journalists, researchers, scholars and policy makers together with public audiences to explore new ways to ensure that sophisticated environmental reporting survives in the West. The symposium will be held in early 2015 on a date to be announced soon.

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