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.

Madeline Weeks Heads to Mexico on Fulbright Scholarship

We're very proud to announce that Madeline Weeks, the Center's Program and Research Associate, has been awarded a Fulbright-García Robles scholarship for the 2013-14 academic year. Madeline will head to Mexico to study shade-grown coffee production in the state of Veracruz. In particular, she will explore the potential of shade-grown coffee plants to produce higher-quality beans with more beneficial socioeconomic and environmental effects. Madeline has been interested in the subject since writing her Wellesley senior thesis on the role of chocolate in Mexican history, religion, and culture. 

The Fulbright-García Robles scholarship is a prestigious award administered by the Mexico-U.S. Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange (COMEXUS), which seeks promote mutual understanding between the two countries through educational and cultural exchanges. 

Since joining the Center, Madeline has been instrumental in coordinating our student research and activities like our summer internships and Sophomore College courses. She also planned and led the 20-mile Stanford to the Sea hike that took place earlier this month.

Madeline's departure this summer leaves us with an opening for the Program Associate position, which we will be posting later this spring. Interested candidates are welcome to contact us. In the meantime, please join us in congratulating Madeline and wishing her the best for continuing her studies of the North American West.

Reflecting on Bill Lane's Western Life

Bert Patenaude, right, a lecturer in history, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and editor of L.W. "Bill" Lane Jr.'s memoir The Sun Never Sets, spoke about the book's development and about the Lane family's role in shaping the image of postwar California.

Before he passed away in 2010, the publisher, diplomat and Center benefactor L.W. "Bill" Lane, Jr., worked with the Stanford historian and researcher Bert Patenaude on a memoir spanning his rich life and experiences. Following the April publication of the book, entitled The Sun Never Sets: Reflections on a Western Life, Dr. Patenaude spoke May 14 at a Center-organized event commemorating the release.

"These are Bill Lane's words throughout," said Patenaude, who described the process of editing the volume with Ambassador Lane after he turned 88 years old in 2007. "There were no ghostwriters. My job was getting him to say it in fewer words sometimes, and rearranging and editing it down." The book chronicles Bill Lane's 90 years, from his childhood in Iowa and his father's purchase of the ailing Sunset magazine in 1928 that brought the family to the Bay Area, to  his naval service in the Pacific War, to his subsequent tours as a diplomat in Japan and Australia.

However, said Patenaude, "the heart of the book is Sunset in the postwar boom years in the West. He becomes a philanthropist and diplomat, but Sunset's success enabled him to do all that." Patenaude spoke about how Bill and his brother Mel tweaked their father Laurence's opinion-free service journalism in the 1960s, mixing in a concern for the environment that reflected changing times. "They just took a look at these mounting environmental challenges in the West, and said we've got to break this rule. But here, too, in the environmental arena, there's this how-to dimension: water conservation, the smart use of water, drought resistant plants, and so on."

In his latter years, Amb. Lane continued to promote environmental causes through his philanthropic work and advocacy for state and national parks, both of whose administrators named him an honorary ranger, a rare achievement of which, says Patenaude, he was justifiably proud. 

Patenaude said that Amb. Lane was nearly done reading the final pages of the manuscript when he died in the summer of 2010, but that he remained restless and ambitious to the end. "If Bill were still here," said Patenaude, "I'm convinced the book would not be finished."

The book is available from Stanford University Press and online and retail booksellers. Video of the lecture is available on Vimeo:

At Stanford, Reworking the Old Story of the Overland Trail

William Henry Jackson’s Crossing the South Platte, c. 1930 (William Henry Jackson Collection, Scotts Bluff National Monument, Gering, Nebraska)

During 2012-13, Sarah Keyes was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with a joint appointment at The Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West (ICW). She is currently an Upton Foundation Fellow at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. This fall she will begin a two-year appointment as an ACLS New Faculty Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

For approximately nine months, The Bill Lane Center for the American West was my intellectual home. I joined the Center after completing my dissertation, "Beyond the Plains: Migration to the Pacific and the Reconfiguration of America, 1820s-1900s," at the University of Southern California under the direction of William Deverell.

My appointment at the Center allowed me to begin work on my book manuscript, based on my dissertation. In the fall I explored aspects of the experience that I had not included in the dissertation. One of these themes was health on the overland trail. Historians have long noted that many Euro-Americans undertook the journey to improve their health, as well as to reach what they believed to be the more healthy climates of California and Oregon. In a paper I presented at the annual meeting of the Western History Association, I argued that Euro-American travelers declared that adopting an "Indian lifestyle" - walking long distances and eating buffalo meat, for instance - was the way to improve their health. Through this claim Euro-Americans described the journey as transforming them for the better, by making them more like the healthy, tall Indians of the Plains that they so admired.

Recently, during the Center's "Spring Seminar" series. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present portions of an upcoming exhibit that I am developing at the Oregon History Museum. The exhibit, based on research I did at the Oregon Historical Society, showcases how the Society focused its preservation and commemoration efforts on both Euro-American and indigenous populations. Although the members of the Society had distinct views of these two groups' roles in the history of their state, they vigorously pursued relics and documents pertaining to both of them.

I have recently begun an Upton Foundation Fellowship at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. I am currently researching and continuing to revise my book manuscript from the Midwest. In the fall I will be teaching Immigration History and American Indian History at the University of California, Berkeley. 

From Stanford to the Sea

Stanford to the Sea walkers after arriving at San Gregorio Beach

For the past two years, the Center's ritual hike around the Stanford campus, known as "Walking the Farm," has taken on a challenge even greater than circumnavigating the university's famously sprawling lands: crossing the Santa Cruz Mountains to reach the Pacific Ocean on foot. 

On Saturday afternoon, May 4, a group of 30-odd trekkers arrived at San Gregorio Beach after hiking roughly 22 miles from the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. Some walkers even chose to cool off in the frigid ocean waters, and others dipped a toe in the surf.

Following traditon, the walk was enriched by several presentations along the way following the day's theme: land use in the coastal West. Prof. Chris Field (Carnegie Department of Global Ecology) spoke about the effect of climate change on coastal forests; Prof. David Freyberg (Civil and Environmental Engineering) talked about research on redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains; Prof. Meg Caldwell (Center for Ocean Solutions) spoke about the California Coastal Commission; and Paul Ringgold and Walter Moore of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) spoke about their group's work in land conservation. Portions of these talks are available as video clips.

The 2013 walk was a valedictory for Prof. David M. Kennedy, the outgoing director and co-founder of the Bill Lane Center for the American West. Prof. Kennedy, who will turn over direction of the Center this summer to Prof. Bruce E. Cain, originated the idea of Walking the Farm and its later iteration, Stanford to the Sea, which the Center first attempted in 2012. Last year's hike wound 23 miles through the foothills but stopped a few miles short due to darkness. With a new route plotted by the Center's Program and Research Associate, Madeline Weeks, and partners at POST, the group was able to celebrate on the beach in style. For more photos and video from the trip, please follow the links below.

Slideshow and complete photo collection on Flickr: 

Lectures by Chris Field, David Freyberg and Paul Ringgold on video

Starr and Feingold Debate the Future of Political Reform

Three years after the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United upended the nation's campaign finance rules, two veterans of American politics shared the stage at Stanford Law School to discuss the new landscape of money and politics.

"It's one of the most devastating things that's ever been done to our democracy," said former U.S. Senator Russell D. Feingold of the decision that gutted his signature legislative achievement, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as "McCain-Feingold." 

On the contrary, said Kenneth Starr, the former circuit court judge and solicitor general, the Citizens United decision helped stem a "criminalization of politics" that was limiting free speech rights enshrined in the nation's constitution. 

Moderated by the law professor Pamela S. Karlan, the event was cosponsored by the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Stanford Law School, the Department of Political Science, and the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) as part of a year of commemoration of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the state's Political Reform Act of 1974. Rising out of the Watergate scandal and passed by California voters as a ballot measure, the act created the FPPC as a watchdog organization to regulate campaign contributions, lobbying, and financial disclosure by elected officials. 

Video Report Examines Role of Energy Boom's "Fugitive Emissions" in Ozone Problems

The Center's Rural West Initiative has published a video report exploring the link between emissions caused by oil and gas development in parts of Wyoming and Utah, and increased levels of ozone in those communities. 

With our video feature "The New Western Fugitives," we now turn our focus on a side effect of gas extraction that is literally invisible: the build-up of “fugitive” emissions that contribute to high levels of ozone gas.

Along the Green River in Wyoming and Utah, we look at two basins that have some of the worst ozone pollution in the nation. They have recorded ozone levels that sometimes exceed peak conditions in traffic-choked cities like Los Angeles. Following on a lawsuit by a citizen's group in Pinedale, Wyoming, the EPA has declared Wyoming's Upper Green River Basin a "non-attainment zone" for ozone, a ruling that could carry sanctions against the industry if conditions don't improve.

Further south, in Utah’s Uintah Basin, the EPA is still studying the problem, along with partners from NOAA, Utah’s Department of Air Quality, and the Bureau of Land Management. Environmentalists are frustrated with the delays and say some regulators seem to be in a state of denial.

The video is available at and on Vimeo, and is available for sharing and embedding through a Creative Commons license.

Spring Seminars on the West, and More Upcoming Events

It's our pleasure to announce the lineup for the Bill Lane Center for the American West's Spring Seminars on the West, a series of lunchtime talks by our distinguished visiting scholars, project leaders, and other friends of the Center. Join us for light lunch and fascinating conversation on topics ranging from California as an "island," to the shaping of Oregon's foundation story, to federal water policy in the face of climate change.

We're also looking forward to co-sponsoring a high-level panel discussion on the future of political reform with Sen. Russell D. Feingold and Judge Ken Starr, and to hosting The Honorable David J. Hayes as he speaks about the Interior Department's management of public lands. And coming in mid-May, a special celebration of the memoir The Sun Never Sets: Reflections on a Western Life, by L.W. "Bill" Lane, Jr. and Bertrand Patenaude.

2013 Spring Seminars on the West

Lunchtime Talks begin at 12pm. Please RSVP to each event on its respective page.

Wednesday, April 24 in Y2E2 300
"Pioneers and Indians: The Twin Pillars of Historical Significance at the Oregon Historical Society, 1898-1905"
Sarah Keyes, Postdoctoral Scholar, the Bill Lane Center for the American West

Thursday, May 9 in Mitchell Earth Sciences Building, Room 67
"The California Archipelago: Thinking About Mapping California"
Rebecca Solnit, Research Fellow, the Bill Lane Center for the American West

Friday, May 17, in Y2E2 300
"Weathering Change: An Assessment of Federal Water Policies in The Face of a Changing Climate"
Andrew Fahlund, Executive Director, Water in the West at Stanford

Additional Upcoming Events – Save the Date

Tuesday, April 30 at 7:15 pm in Paul Brest Hall, Stanford (reception 6:30pm) 
The Future of Political Reform
Panel Discussion with Sen. Russell D. Feingold and Judge Ken Starr

Thursday, May 2 at 5:30 pm in Jordan Hall Auditorium, Building 420, Room 40
Adopting a Landscape-Level Approach to Managing our Nation's Public Lands
The Honorable David J. Hayes

Tuesday, May 14 at 4:30pm in the Lane History Corner, Building 200, Room 203
The Sun Never Sets: Reflections on a Western Life – Celebrating the Memoirs of L.W. "Bill" Lane, Jr.
Bertrand Patenaude, Stanford University

Defining "Nature" in an Urbanizing World

Innovative “CityNature” project launches website in collaboration with the Bill Lane Center for the American West

CityNature's "Naturehoods Explorer" application

How do city dwellers experience nature? Through parks, of course, but what about less obvious green spaces like tree-lined streets, backyards, and unpaved lots? An innovative new research project called CityNature has launched a website and suite of interactive tools to help explore the question of how U.S. cities provide open and green space to their residents. Accessible at, the website presents data, digital tools and some early results from some of the project's initial studies.

Created by the Center's former executive director Jon Christensen and an interdisciplinary group of researchers at Stanford, the project seeks to combine historical scholarship with rigorous spatial analysis and innovative text mining and topic modeling. To this end, the website features several interactive mapping and data visualization tools to help users explore various data sets and understand concepts framed by the research.

Exploring Space, Data and Planning Documents

One of these, called “Naturehoods Explorer,” is an interactive application that compares 2,600 neighborhoods in 34 U.S. cities across a number of spatial, economic and demographic measures. Are neighborhoods with less parkland typically lower-income? Do housing prices correlate with access to green spaces? The tool not only lets users explore individual cities by neighborhood, but also lets them create "Frankencities" composed of neighborhoods nationwide that share similar characteristics, like high "park need" and low income, or vice-versa.

The researchers have also made use of natural-language processing techniques to text-mine city planning documents and draw insights into the differing policies and philosophies of American cities. Users can explore the results through a feature called "The Language of Nature."

Stanford Technologists and Students

In addition to the extensive development work contributed by the digital humanities specialists Karl Grossner and Elijah Meeks of the Stanford Libraries, the site showcases research by a large team of Stanford student researchers who began as research assistants at the Center during the summer of 2012. You can read more in our Out West student blog about the work contributed by Isabella Aaker, Alice Avery, Nicholas Biddle, Monica Climaco, Jennifer Farman,Alex Kindel, Jared Naimark, Claudia Preciado and Sarah Quartey. Their work has brought a wealth of data and analysis to the project on nearly 40 U.S. cities.

The project will continue to roll out new research and tools, such as an interactive map chronicling the growth of Los Angeles' park system. The CityNature team encourages questions and feedback, and is reachable through email and Twitter.

You can read more about the project in posts that appeared today on Atlantic Cities and The Nature Conservancy's Cool Green Science blog.

At Stanford, Tracing the Roots of a Pan-American Connection

The Curaumilla Coast in Chile (FoundArt via Flickr)

Edward (“Ted”) Melillo is an Assistant Professor in the History Department and the Environmental Studies Program at Amherst College, where he teaches courses on global environmental history and the history of the Pacific World. Over the winter, Melillo spent three months at the Center as a visiting scholar.

During my time at the Bill Lane Center for the American West, I was able to use Stanford’s extensive historical collections to finish revisions to my forthcoming book, Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection, 1786-2008. In January, I had the chance to give a lunchtime talk about my research as part of the Center's seminar series, and among the attendees were several Chileans and Bay Area residents of Chilean descent who stayed afterwards for a lively discussion.

My book charts a series of unexpected routes along a north-south axis, in order to rediscover sites where the women and men of Chile and California profoundly altered each other’s social and environmental histories. These zones of engagement are countless. Between the 1780s and the 1930s, new crops, foods, fertilizers, mining technologies, laborers, and ideas from Chile radically changed California’s development. Likewise, systems of servitude, exotic species, and capitalist development schemes from California dramatically shaped Chilean history from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. Strangers on Familiar Soil unfolds along a chronological arc, extending from 1786 when a French expedition brought the potato from Chile to California to 2008 when Chilean President Michelle Bachelet made a major diplomatic visit to the Golden State. From the earliest botanical exchanges to the most recent cooperative agreements, the peoples and environments of Chile and California have been deeply interconnected with each other and with a wider Pacific World.

The peoples and environments of the Pacific are also central to my most recent article, “The First Green Revolution: Debt Peonage and the Making of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Trade, 1840-1930,” which appeared in the October 2012 issue of the American Historical Review. During my residency at the Bill Lane Center, I was honored to learn that the piece received the Alice Hamilton Prize from the American Society for Environmental History for the best article of the year.

I also spent some of my three-month fellowship co-editing a volume with James Beattie of the University of Waikato, New Zealand and Emily O’Gorman of the University of Wollongong, Australia. The book, Networks of Nature in the British Empire: New Views on Imperial Environmental History (London: Continuum Press, 2014), brings together twelve scholars from North America, Europe, South Asia, Africa, and Australasia to examine the networks of environmental exchanges connecting various parts of the British Empire in the nineteenth century and the outcomes of these transfers for cultures and ecosystems across the globe. In mid-February, I travelled to New Zealand to meet up with my colleagues and hike among the North Island’s extensive stands of California redwoods and Monterey pines. With a bit of human help, California’s botanical legacy has found its way to nearly every corner of the Pacific!

In the future, I will return to California, New Zealand, and Chile to continue research for my second book, which explores the maritime connections between the island of Nantucket and the peoples and environments of the Pacific World. The Nantucket Historical Association recently named me their 2013 Verney Fellow. As part of my fellowship, I will travel to Nantucket in October to deliver a public lecture at the Nantucket Whaling Museum.

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