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 Convenes First Conference on the Rural West

The Center's Rural West Initiative hosted its first Conference on the Rural West over the weekend of October 13-14 at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center in Ogden, Utah. Bringing together almost 50 scholars, researchers, journalists, policymakers and community members, the event sought to assess the state of rural western communities and frame possible solutions to critical issues like energy and natural resource management, economic development, health care, environmental stewardship, and the sometimes fraught relationship between locals and the federal government.

Conference-goers heard keynote speaker Jon Lauck call for a new rural regionalism to balance what he characterized as urbanites' "provincial" view of rural life. Robert Abbey, until recently the chief of the Bureau of Land Management, argued passionately for the importance of federal land ownership. And in remarks at the conference's closing luncheon, the rural historian David Danbom provided a sweeping overview of the issues, tying together exurbanites threatened by wildfires in Colorado, the city of Aurora's fears of water contamination from hydraulic fracking, and the bureaucratic obstacles that prevent a rural county from cleaning up a contaminated mine site. Said Danbom,

I recount these three stories arising in the past few months from a piece of the rural West because I believe they illustrate a number of the themes in the presentations we have heard this weekend—that the rural West is a place of constant change, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic; that what the rural West is and what it should be is contested, sometimes among several different interests; that some of the problems confronting the rural West, while perhaps not intractable, are wicked difficult; and that decisions made about the rural West and actions taken there often live far beyond the decision-makers and actors.

David Kennedy, Stanford History Professor and Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, said that the conference created a unique forum for scholars from many disciplines, and stakeholders and public officials from many points of the economic and fiscal compasses, to come together and share their perspectives on the rural West. “The conference confirmed the value of the work we have been doing for the last two years,” said Kennedy, “and provided a powerful reminder of how important it is for us to continue to focus scholarly and public attention on rural issues, which are so poorly understood in the regions cities and suburbs.”

Organized in collaboration with the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University, the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University and the American West Center at the University of Utah, the conference produced a number of papers that will be edited and compiled for later publication. The full audio of the conference speeches and sessions is available at the Rural West Initiative website.

Back from the Field, Students Report on Conservation and Resource Management in Idaho

This September, a dozen undergraduate students participated in the Sophomore College Course “People, Land, and Water in the Heart of the West,” co-taught by Professors David M. Kennedy and David Freyberg. The course focused on the history and future of a broad range of natural resource management issues in the western United States. Students and faculty spent a week on campus preparing for a two-week field component in Idaho where they explored working landscapes, private and public lands, water and fisheries, conservation, and the history and literature of the relationship between people and the land in the American West.

From the introduction to the student reports:

"Equipped with a foundational knowledge of resource management, students and faculty headed to Idaho for the two-week field portion of the course. They visited resource management sites near Boise and Twin Falls on the Snake River Plain, Craters of the Moon National Monument, the Upper Salmon River in Custer County, and Stanley in the Sawtooth National Forest. The breadth of their interactions spanned fourth-generation ranchers and farmers; officers of the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Forest Service; entrepreneurs; conservationists; foresters; biologists; and recreationalists. From these discussions, students explored the complexities of public-private partnerships and examined the role of science in conservation and natural resource management."

Bruce Cain to Join Center as Faculty Director


The distinguished political scientist Bruce E. Cain will join the Bill Lane Center for the American West as its next faculty director. Professor Cain will succeed the Center's founding faculty director, historian David M. Kennedy, and will be tasked with carrying on the Center's study of the past, present and future of the American West.

Professor Cain brings a wealth of experience in U.S. and California politics. A pioneer in computer-assisted redistricting, he is a well-known expert on elections, term limits, polling, and the relationships between lobbyists and elected officials. He is a frequently cited source in media coverage of politics, recently discussing the 2012 presidential race on KQED Radio's "Forum."

"The scholarly community has long recognized Bruce as the preeminent authority on the political culture, institutions and behavior of the western region, and he is well known to a broader public as an unfailingly clear and trenchant commentator on western politics and public policy," said outgoing director Kennedy. "Stanford and the Bill Lane Center – and the wider West – will all benefit from his deepened engagement with those issues as Lane Center director. We had many strong candidates to take over leadership of the Center, but none brought the rich portfolio of creative academic accomplishment, media savvy, passion for the region and its future, and successful leadership experience that are Bruce's hallmarks. He could not be more welcome."

Professor Cain comes to Stanford after more than two decades at U.C. Berkeley, where he ran the university's Institute of Governmental Studies, and later the U.C. system's Washington Center, an instructional and research program in the nation's capital. In addition to serving as faculty director, he will be joining the political science faculty as the Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in Humanities and Sciences. He has been frequently honored for his teaching and public service, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000. He is also the author of such books as The Reapportionment Puzzle (1984), The Personal Vote (1987), written with Stanford professors John Ferejohn and Morris Fiorina, and Congressional Redistricting (1991) with David Butler. Professor Cain holds a PhD from Harvard University and a BA from Bowdoin College, and he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford Unversity.

"I look forward to leading the preeminent center for western U.S. studies in America," says Professor Cain. "I want it to support innovative, high quality interdisciplinary research and to develop the next generation of western leaders from Stanford's talented pool of students. Leaving Cal after so many years was hard, but I pledge to sit in the neutral section at the Big Game and never to shout 'go Bears' while on campus."

Professor Cain will join the Center full time in the summer of 2013, after completing a fellowship year at New York University's Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law & Justice. In the interim period, Professor Kennedy will continue as the Center's faculty director.

For more information, see Professor Cain's profile in the Staff and Directors section of our website »

Announcing the Thomas D. Dee II Graduate Dissertation Fellowship in the American West

The first-ever Thomas D. Dee II Fellowship will go to Kathryne Young

Thomas D. Dee II, Stanford Class of 1941, had two passions: the American West and Stanford University. The Bill Lane Center for the American West is proud to announce a new fellowship in Dee's honor, the Thomas D. Dee II Graduate Dissertation Fellowship in the American West.

Dee arrived at Stanford in 1937. After growing up in the relatively small town of Ogden, Utah, he had the opportunity at Stanford to meet people from all over the country. Like any first-year student, Dee struggled with homesickness, but he also enjoyed the new exposure to Stanford's community of learning and to broader, national issues. Dee became a Social Sciences major, and he served in leadership roles in Varsity Baseball, the Stanford Glee Club, Scabbard and Blade, and Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. His son David described Stanford as an eye-opening, life-changing experience: "You know, my Dad, he had a few passions in the world. One of them was certainly Stanford."

The grandson of pioneers, Dee had a deep commitment to the American West. Thomas' grandparents, Thomas Duncombe Dee I and Annie Taylor Dee, settled in Ogden as part of the nineteenth-century Mormon migration to Utah. With the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, Ogden became an increasingly important city. Over the years, the Dee family played an important role in Utah's civic and business affairs, including the Utah International Construction and Mining Company.

Dee's sons, David and Thomas, set up the Dee fellowship as a way to honor their father's memory and to further his engagement with Stanford and the West.

As Stanford begins the 2012-13 academic year, the Bill Lane Center for the American West welcomes the first-ever Thomas D. Dee II Graduate Dissertation Fellow, Kathryne Young. Young is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and also holds B.A. and J.D. degrees from Stanford. Her research focuses on questions of law, gender, and race. She will complete her dissertation during her year at the Center and plans to receive the Ph.D. in June 2013.

Center's "Mapping Texts" Project Presented in Digital Scholarship Journal

Detail from a visualization produced for the Mapping Texts project

Mapping Texts, the Center's recent collaboration with the University of North Texas, is one of several Stanford projects showcased in the current Journal of Digital Humanities, published today. In the article "Building New Windows into Digitized Newspapers," co-authors Jon Christensen and Andrew Torget describe the exciting opportunity and daunting challenge faced by scholars dealing with historical documents like newspapers that have been optically converted into digital texts.

In building Mapping Texts we wanted to create more transparent windows into the extraordinary wealth of information available in online archives of digitized historical newspapers. We wanted, for example, to be able to see how much information was available for any particular time and place, and then measure just how much of that information was still recognizable – and thus useable – after the digitization process. We also wanted to be able to see the major language patterns coming from these datasets, so that we could use “distant” readings of such massive collections as a way to determine which individual newspapers would likely yield the most useful information from “close” readings. We wanted, in other words, more finely grained methods for indexing both the quantity and quality of information in these archives as they spread out across both time and space.

The authors go on to describe the process that led to two interactive visualizations of the University of North Texas' online archive of 232,500 pages: one that allows scholars to assess the optical conversion quality of the collection – where and when are the most reliably readable documents?; the other presenting the results of several natural language processing tools that were used to machine-read the collection. 

The journal includes a review of Mapping Texts by the American Studies scholar Robert Nelson, as well as contributions by the Stanford scholars and technologists Matthew Booker on mapping the history of San Francisco Bay, and Elijah Meeks and Karl Grossner on their interactive digital model of the Roman world.

Fighting the Good Fight

Photo: The 2012 Yellowstone Archaeology Team (left to right): Staffan Peterson, Mary Meagher, John Reynolds, Robin Park, Ann Johnson, Daniel Perret, and Bob Flanthers
By Daniel Perret

B.A. in Biology, 2013
Summer Intern at Yellowstone National Park

Read about our summer research projects on the OutWest 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.

I started the summer with next to no knowledge about North American lithic technology, plains archaeology, Yellowstone National Park, or cultural resources management. Now, I can identify and date diagnostic projectile points up to 10,500 years old, hold an intelligent conversation about prehistoric plains chronology, navigate my way through a bison jam, and appreciate the subtler points of Section 106 and Section 104 mandates. It’s hard to imagine that I’ve already been here for three months, and that it’s now time to leave. I feel like I could spend the rest of my life in Yellowstone and just begin to scratch the surface.

The mountain of work bequeathed to the archaeologists in Yellowstone is enormous. Most of the work comes in the form of compliance requests – every federal project that could feasibly affect cultural resources in the park needs to be approved by the park archaeologist. In a place as culturally rich as Yellowstone, the projects seeking approval pile up quickly. Additionally, there are boxes upon boxes of backlogged ‘problem artifacts’—remnants from bygone contracted archaeologists who never finished analyzing and cataloging their finds (or in some cases cataloged them incorrectly, which presents a host of new problems). A single person could occupy themselves for years trying to sort through the thousands of backlogged artifacts and projects. The job descriptions of Staffan and Robin, the park archaeologists, could read like war plans – defeat the compliance requests, conquer the mess of incomplete reports, do battle with the backlog.

Reflections on the Center's Media Collaborations

Over the past year, our western media fellowships have increasingly focused on collaborative projects among journalists, researchers, scholars and technologists. Together with such partners as KQED Public Media, The Texas Tribune, Harper's Magazine, and High Country News, we've published a number of interactive maps and data visualizations on contemporary and historical western subjects, from water and ecosystems to rural communities and economic development, from the growth of western media to forgotten explorers. 

We're proud to have a post describing these projects — as well as our work at the Rural West Initiative — on the innovation-tracking site PBS Mediashift:

In our small lab at Stanford University, we've been prototyping new models of collaboration that bring journalists together with university researchers and scholars. We're eager to share them because we hope that others will take them up, use them, and improve upon them. We believe journalists and scholars and researchers can -- and should -- be natural collaborators. And in our rapidly changing media landscape, we need each other more than ever.

We hope you'll take a moment to read the post, browse through some of our projects, and share your thoughts. 

"Stop Saving the Planet!" Jenny Price's Plea for a More Just and Thoughtful Environmentalism

Jenny Price is a visiting scholar at the Bill Lane Center for the American West. On Monday, October 1, she will present some of her recent thoughts and writings at a special public event presented by Stanford's Environmental Humanities Project. Among her latest set of essays: a revisionist paper about Rachel Carson, and "Green Me Up JJ," a satirical advice column written in the spirit of "The Daily Show." As a writer, Los Angeles Urban Ranger, and research scholar at UCLA, Price says that she has become dismayed by contemporary environmentalism, which she says promises conservation through consumption, and whose benefits are inequitably shared: 

It emphasizes changing your light bulbs versus transforming the national energy grid. It focuses on buying nontoxic paints and carpets versus banning toxic paints and carpets. Not that individual action can’t be important—but there’s a lopsided faith in its effectiveness, and in personal versus more collective kinds of virtue. While you see the “50 simple things (or 10 things, or 24 things) you can do to save the earth (or the planet)” lists all the time, none of them ever says, Vote!, or Pay your taxes!, or Stop fudging your deductions, for goodness sake!--which would likely be a lot more effective than changing your light bulbs--much less, Hold Apple accountable! Or, Buy low-VOC paint for the people who work for you! Or, especially, Pay more to the people who clean and paint your houses, so that they can buy low-VOC paint! 


– From Jenny Price's essay, Stop Saving the Planet!—and Other Tips via Rachel Carson for 21st-Century Environmentalists

Price, the author of Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America and "Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A.," has taught at UCLA, USC, and Antioch-Los Angeles, and she and was the fall 2011 Anschutz Distinguished Fellow in American Studies at Princeton University. 

The event is free and open to the public, and will take place from 6 to 8:30pm on October 1 in the Terrace Room of Margaret Jacks Hall on the Stanford campus. Attendees are encouraged to read Price's essay and articles beforehand. 

Center Summer Intern Considers Human Effect on the Plains

Through the Center's internship program, Michelle Berry spent her summer at the American Prairie Reserve, a Montana-based nonprofit that acquires and manages land trusts in the West. Her research on the historical wildlife populations in northeastern Montana was featured in The National Geographic Society's NewsWatch blog.

Berry writes:

"Looking back in time, who was the top predator of the American prairie ecosystem? Wolves, grizzly bears… humans? As I continue my research of historic wildlife populations in northeastern Montana, it is important to consider how changes in human populations were affecting the ecology of this area. There was a tendency among European and American explorers to romanticize the landscapes they encountered as pristine paradises flourishing with wild animals and vegetation. In fact, this land had been inhabited by hundreds of thousands of humans that had shaped the ecosystem in variable ways."

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