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.

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.

Water in the West Website Relaunches with New Features, Contributors

Water in the West, the Center's joint project with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, has opened a new chapter with the launch of an updated and expanded website. Over the coming months, the site will feature regular posts by project staff, researchers, and guest contributors on current events in western water, emerging scholarship, and related events organized by the project and its collaborators.

Andrew Fahlund, the executive director of Water in the West, writes:

Please look around this site to learn more about how we are engaging in research and dialogues to help achieve a future of sustainable water management for the American West.

Reaching a broader audience is fundamental to the mission of Water in the West. Our blog, the Western Water Forum, is dedicated to commenting on current events, communicating our latest research in plain language, and bridging the divide between academia, practitioners and policymakers. Authors will include faculty, visiting scholars, staff and students from Water in the West, as well as the occasional guest. We hope that you will come back regularly to learn about what we’re up to and make suggestions and recommendations about our future direction.

Heather West Wins Scholarship for Western Land Conservation Research

From left: Heather West, Whitney Leonard and Hanna Mershman, 2013 Wyss Scholars from Yale University

A year after leaving the Center to pursue degrees in environmental management and business administration, our former program and research associate Heather West (Stanford, '09) has been awarded a scholarship from the Wyss Foundation to further pursue her graduate work at Yale University and in the American West.

West, who is in her second year in the Master in Environmental Management and Master in Business Administration programs, is dedicating her research to "understanding and improving the relationships of individuals and their natural environments, with the intention of bringing together unique stakeholders to achieve large-scale land conservation." 

The Wyss Scholars Program supports graduate-level education for up-and-coming leaders in western land conservation. The awards support tuition and other expenses toward the master’s degree, and offer an additional award to cover conservation work experience in summer research or internships.

While at the Center, Heather served as chief mentor and teaching assistant to undergraduates on our three-week Sophomore College on the Colorado River watershed. She also oversaw our student internship program placing undergraduates in government and nonprofit organizations along the West Coast. 

Please join us in congratulating Heather and in looking forward to her continued work in western conservation. 

Center's Interactive Map Honored by Cartographic Society

The interactive feature "Envisioning California's Delta as it Was," which takes users on a tour of the historical Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, has won Honorable Mention in the Interactive Digital Category of the 40th Annual Cartography and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS) Map Competition. According to CaGIS, the judges found the map "particularly pleasing from an aesthetic perspective, as well as intuitive to read."

As part of the award, according to CaGIS, a copy of the interactive feature is being submitted to the Library of Congress for cataloguing. The Bill Lane Center produced "Envisioning California's Delta" in collaboration with KQED Public Media's science and environment program QUEST and the San Francisco Estuary Institute's Aquatic Science Center. Based on an extensive historical ecology survey of the Delta conducted by SFEI for the California Department of Fish and Game, the interactive was a collaborative work of scientists, journalists and technologists, and was published on KQED's website in May 2012 as part of a comprehensive radio, tv and web series on the Delta and its future.

Past winners of the CaGIS awards include National Geographic Maps, The University of Oregon, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and San Diego State University. 

Upcoming Event
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"The Sun Never Sets: Reflections on a Western Life"

Celebrating the Memoirs of L.W. "Bill" Lane, Jr.

Lane History Corner
Building 200, Room 203
Stanford University

Please join us for a talk and reception on the Stanford campus to commemorate and celebrate the publication of Bill Lane's memoir, The Sun Never Sets: Reflections on a Western Life (Stanford University Press). The book chronicles the life, passion and adventures of the Sunset magazine publisher, U.S. ambassador, World War II veteran, ardent conservationist, and Center benefactor L.W. "Bill" Lane, Jr, who passed away in 2010 at 90 years old.
Open With Registration

Technology and Up-Close Reporting Help Environmental Stories Make a Difference

It took more than two months for a camera attached to a remote trigger to capture just the right picture of pronghorn antelope crossing Wyoming's Green River. Photograph: Joe Riis
How is technology changing wildlife reporting? The 2013 Knight-Risser Symposium on February 20 brought together a panel of journalists and scientists to consider this and other questions raised by the 2012 Knight-Risser Prize winner, "Perilous Passage," which chronicled the epic migration of pronghorn antelope in Wyoming. The prize and symposium are co-organized by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford.

By Robin Evans
John S. Knight Fellowships

If journalists want their environmental stories to make a real difference, it may not be enough to just conduct research and interviews and publish. Today’s audiences need to identify with the issue – to visualize it, even experience it – in a personal way.

That’s what writer Emilene Ostlind and photographer Joe Riis were able to do with “Perilous Passage,” their two-year project on pronghorn antelope migration in Wyoming. It won the 2012 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. And it encouraged changes, big and small, to keep this ancient migration path, one of the longest in the western hemisphere, safe for its four-legged travelers. Wireless photography tools and immersive fieldwork made it possible.

The use of technology in wildlife journalism was the topic of the Knight-Risser Prize Symposium at Stanford, at which the annual journalism prize is presented. The Knight-Risser Prize, which also comes with a $5,000 award, recognizes the best environmental reporting on the North American West — from Canada through the United States to Mexico. They symposium explores new ways to ensure that such sophisticated environmental reporting survives.

The discussion, moderated by photographer and John S. Knight Journalism Fellow Samaruddin Stewart, included the two prize winners, Philippe Cohen, executive director of Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, and Susan McConnell, a nature photographer and Stanford biology professor.

Complete Video of the Symposium (Story continues below)

A Personal Story

Ostlind went out backpacking to find the pronghorn’s path, later detailing her challenges along with that of the pronghorns’. “She got lost in drainages, battled through thick brush, and post-holed her way through deep snow,” said Paul Larmer, executive director of High Country News, where her story was published. She alerted Riis about good observation locations. He then went out to place cameras with remote triggers. During subsequent migrations, the cameras captured unprecedented video and close-ups of the antelopes fording rivers, cleaving willow thickets and maneuvering housing developments, highways and natural gas fields.

Food for Thought About the American West: Announcing our Winter Lunchtime Seminars

Over the next few months, the Bill Lane Center for the American West will be hosting a series of lunchtime talks by our distinguished lineup of visiting scholars and other friends of the Center. Join us for light lunch and fascinating conversation about the intertwined histories of Chile and California; issues of race, gender and identity in the historical West; and the postwar influence of Sunset Magazine on suburban life in Australia. Later in March, we'll have an additional appearance by Timothy Egan, the columnist for The New York Times, celebrated author and former Center media fellow.

2013 Winter Seminars on the West

Lunchtime Talks begin at 12pm in the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Y2E2). Please RSVP to each event on its respective page.

Tuesday, January 29 in Y2E2 300
"Strangers on Familiar Soil: Rediscovering the Chile-California Connection, 1786-2008"
Edward D. Melillo, Amherst College

Thursday, February 7 in Y2E2 300
"Pickett’s Other Charge: The Hidden History of Jimmie Pickett, the Confederate General’s ‘Fine Little Half Breed Boy’"
Scott D. Sagan, Stanford University

Wednesday, February 13 in Y2E2 105
"Western Living Down Under: Sunset Magazine in Australian Suburban Culture During the 20th Century"
Ruth Morgan, Monash University

Thursday, March 7 in Y2E2 300
"Race Around the Quad: Eugenics, Race and Steinbeck at Stanford, 1919-1925"
Kevin Hearle, Bill Lane Center for the American West

Wednesday, March 13, Location TBD
"Creating the Largest Wildlife Park in the Continental U.S.: An Entrepreneurial Approach"
Sean Gerrity, American Prairie Reserve

Monday, March 18 in Y2E2 101
"Fixing the Dust Bowl: A Climate Change Parable"
Timothy Egan, The New York Times

Reflecting on a Year of Transition and Growth

Idaho's Lava Lake Ranch, taken in September 2012 by Sophomore College Student Annie Kong

As 2012 comes to a close, we at the Bill Lane Center for the American West have much to celebrate.

We hope you'll take a moment to read faculty director David M. Kennedy's letter summing up the year. In addition, you may enjoy the following articles about our work and activities:

This is a year of leadership transitions for us. Kathy Zonana joined the Center in September as associate director, taking over administrative leadership from Jon Christensen, who has taken up a post at UCLA. The Center remains involved in Jon's CityNature and Year of the Bay projects, and we are grateful to still benefit from his energy and wisdom. Next summer, the distinguished political scientist Bruce E. Cain will take over as faculty director. David Kennedy will remain actively involved in the life of the Center, and we all look forward to the next chapter in our history.

In the meantime, we have a slew of activities planned for winter quarter: lunchtime seminars with political science professor Scott Sagan and visiting scholars Edward Melillo and Ruth Morgan; a talk by award-winning author, New York Times opinion blogger and former Center media fellow Tim Egan; and the Knight-Risser Prize symposium, celebrating High Country News for its feature on pronghorn migration and discussing the state of wildlife journalism.

Details on these events will be forthcoming, and we hope to see you at many of them. Meanwhile, please accept our warm Western wishes for a wonderful holiday season.

Where Scholarship and Journalism Meet

The Bill Lane Center for the American West has always been committed to working with journalists and supporting great reporting on the West. We also believe that the growth of the Internet has increased the potential reach and impact of good journalism, as well as opening new possibilities for enhancing the user experience, like data visualization, interactivity and multimedia. But with the economic challenges facing news organizations in the current era, we are also concerned about the state of reporting on critical issues facing the West.

The Stanford News Service has a story today about the Center's efforts to develop new partnerships and collaborations with journalists, centered around our Media Fellowship program, our original reporting for our Rural West Initiative, and our work developing interactive media projects:

"We have this idea that universities have a real role to play in engaging the public," said Geoff McGhee, the center's creative director for media and communications.

The Center has increasingly been partnering with news agencies, as well as producing its own original reporting. "We can carry the weight that independent news agencies are increasingly unable to carry on their own," McGhee said.

The Center is already well known for bringing together academics on Western topics ranging from wildfire ecology to rural health care. Now, in a process that began with former executive director Jon Christensen and has continued with new associate director Kathy Zonana since her arrival in September, the Center has been bringing journalists to those academics, partnering with news agencies and conducting original reporting on the West.


If you're interested in learning more about our media fellowships and looking at some of the projects we've created in collaboration with news organizations like High Country News, Harper's Magazine, the Texas Tribune and KQED Public Media, see our post on PBS Mediashift, "Producing a Collaborative Media Fellowship Model at Stanford."

Syndicate content