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.
Jack London, center left, negotiates passage with a Japanese officer in Korea during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. Renowned as a writer, London's photojournalism has often been overlooked. (Huntington Library)
Jack London, the author and photographer who hurtled like a comet through the fabric of the American West in the early 20th century, burned with anger, a determination for social change and an hard-edged affection for the ragged ends of humanity. That picture was drawn by four specialists, who also offered insights into his complex and contradictory character at a symposium on “Jack London: Apostle of the American West,” at Stanford’s faculty club on Monday, September 19.
The session, which drew an overflow audience, was the debut event in ArtsWest, a new initiative of the Bill Lane Center for the American West. It was sponsored by the Center and the Stanford University Libraries, and was moderated by Bruce E. Cain, the Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Center. The event was recorded for later broadcast by the cable channel C-SPAN. We will provide further details when the program is scheduled.
The tone of London’s era was outlined by Peter Blodgett, a panelist who is the Curator of Western Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library in San Marino. In the late 19th century, into which London was born as the illegitimate son of a high-born woman, the West was a place where extractive industries flourished. Simultaneously, the treatment of the men who did the hard work helped “dissent and opposition beginning to appear.”
London, with his commitment to socialism, was a part of the larger landscape.
Capturing The National Imagination With Tales Of The West
But, after an impoverished youth spent pirating oysters, sealing and prospecting in the Yukon, he published “Call of the Wild” in 1903. The tale, about a stolen and brutally-used sled dog who finds freedom in the life of a wolf, won London a worldwide following.
His swift rise from obscurity to celebrity at a time when, in the national imagination, when the West was, Blodgett said, a place that was brimming with a “flood tide of tales of adventure — the mythological West of unlimited opportunity and heroic episodes.” London’s hard-edged prose with its stark view of men’s encounters with the natural world fit right in.
Another panelist, Donna M. Campbell, a professor of English at Washington State University, added that “London encouraged reader to see works as extension of his life,” from poverty to oyster private to prospector, and embraced the celebrity brought him by “Call of the Wild.” The author Upton Sinclair drafted him into the Intercollegiate Socialist Society in 1905.
Jack London also spent time looking at poverty elsewhere — particularly London’s East End, where he went native among the poor of England by dressing in sailor’s gear and living in workingmen’s dormitories in 1902.
Like other western authors, he earned little regard from the eastern literary establishment, and returned the favor. Campbell described London giving an audience a short reading of some of Henry James’s sinuous prose, then banging the book down and asking contemptuously, “Do any of you know what this is about?”
Unheralded Photojournalism Work
But one of the more startling revelations by the panelists was London’s work as a photographer, with his lens trained, from below, on the human face and form. This was true both in Asia, where he covered the Russo-Japanese War as a journalist and in the poor sections of London, where, as the panelist Sara S. Hodson said, his work showed “he loved the promise and innocence of children.”
Jeanne Campbell Reesman, a professor of English at the University of San Antonio, and founder of the Jack London Society, said that the photographs of Melanesians and Samoans London took while traveling to Micronesia on his ketch the Snark, show London refused to view the natives as “the other.” His work, she said, “documented issues of lasting local and global significance — people as history.”
Reesman added that, no matter London’s firm belief in socialism, his life and his fiction fit the contemporary obsession with individualism, and he was a “strong and masculine hero of the age.” And in this early era of celebrity, Hodson said, “Jack London was famous for what he did and what he was about to do.” His nickname was Wolf.
Campbell added that London’s work set about “changing the course of American literature” — it “busted through the circumlocutions of genteel fiction.” London, who had bought and extended a Sonoma County ranch where hoped to practice his socialist ideals, died there 100 years ago, at the age of 40.
Inaugural Event for ArtsWest Initiative Includes Pop-up Exhibition
ArtsWest, as an initiative, was inspired by Marc Levin, an affiliated scholar at the Bill Lane Center for the American West. The panel discussion was accompanied by a pop-up exhibition, featuring first editions of “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang,” as well as Jack and Charmain London’s typewriter, which was curated by Natalie Pellolio, a Stanford Ph.D. candidate in Art and Art History. The objects were lent from the extensive private collection of Sarah and Darius Anderson of Sonoma.
Photo: Kent Kanouse via Flickr
As the 2016-17 academic year begins, we are sad to say goodbye to our cohort of postdoctoral scholars and affiliated researchers. We are also very happy to report on their new postings and undertakings.
Kathryne Young has joined the sociology faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She writes, "As a lifelong West coaster, I admit to some trepidation about the frigid East! Although I know I will miss the West terribly, I am looking forward to the new adventure." Katie, who finished her dissertation at the Center as a Dee Fellow, also ably ran our 2015 Rural West Conference in Troutdale, Oregon. Katie can also be reached through her personal website.
Nicola Ulibarri is now with the Department of Planning, Policy and Design at U.C. Irvine. She will be doing research and teaching on environmental and sustainability issues in a department that, being part of the School of Social Ecology, is "focused on interdisciplinary applied, problem-oriented, and community-engaged research." Nicola will also be continuing her collaborative work with the Center on streamlining the environmental permitting process. "Being in Irvine," she writes, "will let us develop a southern California complement to the ongoing Bay Area work." She says she's excited the highly interdisciplinary nature of her program, and of U.C. Irvine, she says, "it's a very diverse school and faculty, and seems genuinely committed to supporting minority, first-generation, and other non-traditional students and faculty."
Dan Reineman is continuing to teach at Stanford, building on the interdisciplinary California Coast class he co-taught in the spring quarter. Based in the School of Earth, Energy, & Environmental Sciences, Dan is leading the Wrigley Field Program in Hawaii, and working as a lecturer and instructional designer. "I will be developing and implementing courses and programs designed to increase undergraduate student participation within the school," Dan writes. "I will also be working at 20% time on a NSF grant I co-authored with Ali Boehm in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering: we are studying coastal water quality and citizen science and trying to understand what makes some volunteers more reliable than others."
John Dougherty has taken a position at Reed College teaching History and Environmental Studies. "I'm tremendously excited to be joining the faculty at one the West's most prestigious liberal arts colleges," writes John, who is returning to his home town, Portland. "In particular, I'm thrilled at the opportunity to bring the interdisciplinary and collaborative discussions taking place at The Bill Lane Center for the American West to the inquisitive student minds of Reed College. I look forward to future collaborations with The Bill Lane Center and am forever indebted to my Stanford colleagues."
Todd Holmes has joined the Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center at U.C. Berkeley. As a Historian and Associate Academic Specialist, Todd will continue his research and interviews around the development of California's political history. Todd will also continue to contribute to the Center's California Coastal Commission project as an affiliated scholar.
Vanessa Casado-Perez has moved to the faculty of the School of Law at Texas A&M University in Fort Worth. We are looking forward to further collaborations with Vanessa on cross-border water and resource issues.
Nicholas Bauch, fresh off the publication of his digital monograph "Enchanting the Desert," has joined the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oklahoma. Nick is now assistant professor of Geohumanities and Director of the Experimental Geography Studio. "I could not have drawn up a job description for myself more perfectly than what I found at the University of Oklahoma," writes Nick. "I'll be working in all kinds of creative media with artists and scholars across campus, heading up the Experimental Geography Studio (my title :) ), and building the undergraduate Geohumanities major as well as a Ph.D. program in Geohumanities."
Please join us in thanking them for their many contributions to the Center and the study of the West – and in wishing them the best for their new adventures.
Image: A beautiful walk through the Denver Botanic Gardens, my last excursion in Denver.
By Princess Umodu
Political Science Major, C/O 2017
Elections Intern at the National Conference of State Legislatures
Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.
In high school, I found a quote that stated, “I cannot remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten. Even so, they have made me.” After this summer, I would add that though I cannot remember every moment of my internship at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, together they have made me a better student and a more well-informed citizen, as well as more prepared to enter the workforce in the future.
My expectations for this summer were not high or low, but rather, unable to be quantified. I had no idea what to expect when I walked through the front doors and that feeling never truly went away. Before I went to Denver, I knew that I would have the chance to work collaboratively, but also independently and that in doing so, I would learn a lot about how I operate in those different distinct environments. Now, I truly understand what motivates me and when I need the push and centering of a team-oriented effort and when I can be alone and let work flow from me as needed. One thing that strikes me is how much work I did and knowledge I accumulated.
At the end of my internship, I presented on what I had learned over the last two months. It was hard for me to start at first because I kept thinking that all I had learned was about ballot measures. Surely, I did not have enough information to fill a 20 minute presentation? However, the second I put my pencil to the paper to start an outline, my pencil would not stop moving. Nuances and thoughts flowed over me in a rush to get on the page and into the presentation. It was absolutely incredible to me how much I had learned. Keeping the ballot measures database updated was only the beginning. Work included compiling and double-checking legislation on various topics including voter id and poll watcher requirements, as well as a brief stint in legislative vacancies. I also responded or aided in responding to information requests from reporters, state legislators, legislative staff, and anyone else who contacted NCSL’s election staff for an issue I was involved in.
This summer was dynamic for elections, to say the least. With the political season this year, the Elections team, which I interned for, often found themselves producing and publishing information on voter technology and procedure to provide nonpartisan context for how elections run as we move closer and closer to the November 8 general election. Being a part of that eye-opening. As an intern, I saw relevant and timely responses to current news, whether it had happened the day before or just hours before. Working for such an extremely well-informed group encouraged me to stay updated with the ever-changing breaking news. I am pleased to say I was a part of it, in whatever small capacity.
Aside from being very happy in my workplace, Denver proved to be a very enjoyable place to live and thrive. With the art museum, the technologically advanced public library, several beautiful parks, a beautiful botanic garden and one very good muffin shop, I explored in ways I never had before. On one occasion, I even made it out to Boulder for a short hike in Chautauqua National Park, a pastime I never thought I would pursue by myself. My summer in Denver taught me a lot about who I am and what I can achieve in ways that were unexpected, unimaginable, unknowable, and beautiful all the same.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »
The Desert Sun and USA Today
A sobering exploration of groundwater overuse in the United States and around the world has won the 2016 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. The series "Pumped Dry: The Global Crisis of Vanishing Groundwater" was written by Ian James of the Desert Sun, with photographs, a documentary film and information graphics by Steve Elfers and Steve Reilly of USA Today. The winners will share in a $5,000 prize and will be invited to Stanford to take part in an environmental journalism symposium this fall.
This year's competition also gave a special recognition to "Killing the Colorado," a series by the investigative website ProPublica and Matter magazine.
Established in 2005 and co-administered by the Bill Lane Center and the John S. Knight Fellowships at Stanford, the Knight-Risser Prize celebrates the best western environmental journalism each year.
Upper Kern River, 1876, by William Keith, on display at the Cantor Arts Center
This summer brings a number of visual arts exhibitions on California and the American West to the Bay Area's leading cultural institutions. Here's a rundown of exhibitions at the Cantor Arts Center, SF Moma, the DeYoung Museum, and the Legion of Honor, from now into the fall.
How Artists Documented – and Mythologized California's Waterscape
California: The Art of Water
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University
June 18-November 28
A new exhibit at the Cantor Arts Center traces the changing California landscape through a wealth of images ranging from epic 19th paintings to dissonant and thought-provoking images by postmodern photographers.
The curators write:
California: The Art of Water examines the way artists and photographers have portrayed one of California's most precious resources over the last two centuries. The exhibition features over 50 works of water subjects by eminent artists, including Ansel Adams, Albert Bierstadt, David Hockney, Richard Misrach, Carleton Watkins, and others.
The exhibition links visions of natural beauty and progress with depictions of places where patterns of water use destroyed thriving environments. Many 19th-century artists created images that portray California as a place of pristine lakes and rivers, while later painters and photographers captured the immense and growing system of waterworks--titanic dams, pipelines, and aqueducts---that moved water for hundreds of miles across the state. The visitor to California: The Art of Water will encounter works of art that raise urgent questions about the human relationship with water in the state.
Also happening in the Bay Area this summer:
Wild West: Plains to the Pacific
Legion of Honor, San Francisco
June 18-September 11
"Mined from the wide-ranging collections of the Fine Arts Museums, Wild West explores artistic responses to the natural and cultivated landscapes of the western United States from the frontier era to the present. The exhibition features paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, historical artifacts, and ephemera in a thematic presentation that celebrates the abundance and diversity within the region’s physical environment. (This is a companion exhibition to Ed Ruscha and the Great American West, below).
"Included in Wild West are works by Albert Bierstadt, Maynard Dixon, Ester Hernández, Thomas Moran, Eadweard Muybridge, Chiura Obata, Bill Owens, Frederic Remington, Ed Ruscha, Fritz Scholder, Michael Schwab, Wayne Thiebaud, Carleton Watkins, Emmi Whitehorse, and other artists, whose diverse range of approaches to the theme contribute to a multifaceted picture of the American West."
California and the West: Photography from the Campaign for Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
May 14–September 5
"California and the West — the title taken from Edward Weston’s celebrated book — consists of gifts and promised gifts to the museum that depict wild nature as a spiritual resource, illustrate how land here has been used over time, and explore diverging photographic approaches, from evocation to documentation to self-conscious art making. Arranged roughly chronologically, from the medium’s invention in the nineteenth century to the present, this exhibition reveals changes in the landscape as well as shifts in photographic attitudes and subject matter. Artists on view include Ansel Adams, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Lewis Baltz, Imogen Cunningham, and Lee Friedlander, as well as Dorothea Lange, Ed Ruscha, Larry Sultan, Edward Weston, and Minor White, among others."
Ed Ruscha and the Great American West
DeYoung Museum, San Francisco
July 16-October 9
"Ed Ruscha and the Great American West includes 99 works that reveal the artist’s engagement with the American West and its starring role in our national mythology. This exclusive exhibition has been organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and celebrates the career of one of the world’s most influential and critically acclaimed artists.
"Ruscha continues to work steadily at the age of 78, and this exhibition includes prints made as recently as 2015. He maintains a studio in the California desert and makes regular road trips through the spare and evocative landscapes that first inspired him as a young man. Ruscha has now worked in California for more than 50 years, and this exhibition celebrates his long commitment to exploring the American west as both romantic concept and modern reality."
Top row: Emily Santhanam, Seth Chambers, Rachel Lam, Justin Appleby; Middle row: Emilia Schrier, Jaclyn Marcatili, Kate Roberts, Courtney Pal; Bottom row: Julia Goolsby, Sarah Flamm, Iain Espey, Princess Umodu
Not pictured: Caroline Spears (Click image to enlarge)
As summer begins, the Bill Lane Center will once again send a group of students off for a unique set of Western adventures. This year’s cohort includes 13 undergraduates and co-terms who will be spending their summers working in national parks, nature conservancies, hiking trails, rivers, or cities of the West. Stay tuned for blog posts from each of our interns as they chronicle their experiences throughout the summer.
2016 Interns in the West
|Henry's Fork Foundation||Environmental Modeling Internship||Justin Appleby|
|Heyday Books||Sales and Marketing Internship||Iain Espey|
|San Francisco Estuary Institute||Resilient Landscapes Program Internship||Kate Roberts|
|Yellowstone National Park||Archaeology Internship||Seth Chambers|
|Yellowstone National Park||Curatorial Internship||Emily Santhanam|
|Yosemite National Park||Archives & Records Management Internship||Emilia Schrier|
|Yosemite National Park||Museum Internship||Rachel Lam|
|National Conference of State Legislatures||Legislative Studies Internship||Princess Umodu|
|Trust for Public Land||Government Affairs Internship||Sarah Flamm|
|Trust for Public Land||Climate-Smart Cities Internship||Caroline Spears|
|Santa Lucia Conservancy||Adaptive Management and Conservation Internship||Julia Goolsby|
|Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trial||Trail and Community Development Internship||Courtney Pal|
|Golden Gate National Recreation Area||Historic Landscape Documentation Intern||Jaclyn Marcatili|
This summer, read about our interns on the Out West student blog. During the summer quarter, Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their work at organizations thoughout the West.
The armed standoff at Bundy Ranch in southern Nevada in 2013 reignited a long-running debate over ranching on public lands. Cliven Bundy's refusal to pay fees for cattle grazing rallied those who felt that large holdings of federal land were smothering economic opportunity in the West – in Nevada, for example, nearly 85 percent of the land is owned by parts of the federal government.
A powerful and enduring symbol of the American West, rangeland cattle grazing has nonetheless been shrinking for many years, with the amount of livestock on federal lands dropping by more than half since the 1950s. Nevada has been hit particularly hard, declining nearly 75 percent from its modern peak in 1954.
But is federal policy to blame for the decline of western ranchers? With the support of a Western Enterprise Media Fellowship from the Bill Lane Center, the journalist Tay Wiles set out to understand what is ailing cattle ranching. To this end, Wiles and her colleagues gathered 50 years of grazing data from the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service, some of which had never been digitized before. In the resulting story for High Country News, Wiles writes,
One of the prime drivers of the 45-year-old Sagebrush Rebellion, the movement to take control of public lands from the federal government, is the sense that rural western ranchers are bullied by forces beyond their control. That narrative remains compelling, in part because it’s true.
In looking for forces behind ranching's decline, Wiles finds more to blame than environmental regulations (the most widely criticized federal policy), all of which have contributed to a "perfect storm" buffeting ranchers: the switch to polyester yarn after World War II, which depressed demand for wool; the growing use of feedlots to raise cattle, which lowered the cost of beef and cut ranchers' operating margins; private conservation organizations that bought and retired grazing lands; advances in rangeland science, which set limits of how much livestock arid landscapes could support; and in many areas, urban growth – Bundy's ranch in Southern Nevada ranch is situated in the same county as fast-growing Las Vegas.
If those factors haven't been hard enough for ranchers to endure, prolonged droughts have added more hardship, Wiles writes, forcing ranchers "to sell off animals that their allotments can no longer support."
The full report contains a number of maps and data visualizations tracing the changing fortunes of western cattle ranching.