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Our Mission

The Bill Lane Center for the American West is 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.

The Center's vision of the West extends from San Francisco Bay to the fabled 100th meridian, from western Canada to all of Mexico and outward to the Pacific world. As a hub for research and expertise about the American West, we work with Stanford students, faculty, and outside partners to address challenges facing the region. One of our main objectives is to provide helpful tools, reporting and research to leaders who make decisions that impact California and the American West. In addition to supporting sound policymaking, we also strive to showcase the art, history and culture of the West to preserve and foster appreciation for the region’s uniqueness.

Students from a wide variety of disciplines regularly work at the Center as research assistants and spend summers at internships from Monterey to Missoula, Yosemite to Yellowstone. These students bring their experiences and enthusiasm back to campus. The Center aims to support future leaders who are eager to put their Stanford education to work in the West. The Center is also deeply engaged in exploring digital mapping, spatial history and analysis, data analysis and visualization, multimedia storytelling, social media and collaborative research and teaching using new digital tools. 

We work in three broad areas:

History, Arts and Culture

Three images of art created by women
Images, from left: "Series 1, No. 8" by Georgia O'Keeffe; "Anonymous, Modesto, 2012 by Katy Grannan; Frida Kahlo. From our event, "Women Who Transformed Art in the West."

The Center was co-founded by two leading scholars of American History, Richard White and David M. Kennedy, and we continue to collaborate frequently with Stanford scholars in history, anthropology and the arts. Our ArtsWest Initiative highlights the literature, art, and culture of the West. The Center also sponsors the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project, a Stanford-based effort to understand the lives of the thousands of Chinese immigrants who were instrumental in the creation of a transcontinental railroad.

Environment and Energy

Sophomore College 2017: Water and Power in the Pacific Northwest

The Center works closely with the Precourt Institute for Energy, the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and others at Stanford on crucial environment and resource challenges in the AmericanWest. Together with the Woods Institute, we have embarked on a major long-term initiative, Water in the West. This research and policy program is focusing on making western water systems sustainable by improving groundwater and surface water management; broadening adoption of water recycling and reuse technologies; and improving information systems, performance measurements, and best practices for managing water in the West. The Center also supports research and dialogues with decision makers on emerging challenges and opportunities in conservation, land use planning, energy and environmental education.

Western Governance and Policy

David Crane, lecturer in Public Policy, gives a keynote at a State of the West symposium on the economic state of Western states.

The Center is led by the distinguished political scientist Bruce E. Cain and it maintains close ties with policymakers and decision makers in the public and private sectors around the West. These relationships allow Stanford students and faculty to engage directly and constructively in finding solutions to the region’s challenges through research, internships and dialogues. In partnership with the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the Center co-sponsors an annual State of the West Symposium on the economic and fiscal health of the Western region that brings students and faculty together with public officials, investors, and leaders in business, labor and the nonprofit sector. The Center is also engaged in efforts to improve governance at the state, regional and national levels in the West.