The Bill Lane Center for the American West is pleased to welcome two Thomas D. Dee II Graduate Fellows to the Center for the 2020-21 academic year. The Dee Fellowship provides one year of full financial support to graduate students from Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences who are working on dissertation research related to the North American West. While in residence at the Center (virtually, this year), fellows present on their research and are a valuable part of the Center’s research community.
Charlotte S. Hull, a PhD candidate in history, researches the intersection of space, politics, and power in 19th-century North America. She received her B.A. in history and English from UC Berkeley, where she wrote a senior thesis on the first generations of English settlement on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, exploring how islanders –– both English and Wampanoag –– created new autonomous systems outside of regional and imperial power structures during the mid-17th century.
Charlotte’s dissertation project, “Connecting California: The Global Expansion of the United States, 1783-1848,” aims to craft a history of how California became a territory of the U.S., arguing that California was “a driving motivation for U.S. exploration, diplomacy, and military action” over the period covered in her dissertation. Charlotte complicates the commonly circulated ideal of “manifest destiny,” considering how Presidents Jefferson and Madison’s plans of continental expansion were “outrageous given the realities at the turn of the century.” In her dissertation, Charlotte instead considers how continental expansion actually played out, without taking “progress or expanding sovereignty for granted.”
Covering the period from 1783 to 1848, Charlotte’s dissertation links the American Revolution to the Mexican-American War, showing how Atlantic revolutions informed the United States’ process of western expansion. In unpacking “manifest destiny,” Charlotte considers the realities of expansion alongside the mythology to which “manifest destiny” was central, asking how the myth of an imperial destiny was created in real time, and why the myth persists so readily in later representations of 19th-century U.S. history.
Rachel Heise Bolten, a PhD Candidate in English, works on the intersections of literary and visual culture, histories of science and technology, and the environmental humanities. Rachel received her MPhil in Criticism & Culture from Cambridge University, and holds an AB in English with a certificate in American Studies from Princeton University. Her writing has appeared in The Nation and Bookforum.
Rachel’s dissertation, “To Describe America, 1835-1967,” considers the practice of description over the long century in its title. Bringing together writers and visual artists, she considers how descriptive practice responds to “an evolving national identity and sense of place,” ultimately arguing that description is central to criticism. Rachel borrows from disciplines like art history and the history of science to examine her primary texts -- objects like sketchbooks and taxonomies, for which description is a major goal.
One chapter of her dissertation, for example, focuses on “the lives and afterlives of the panorama in California.” For this, she has conducted extensive archival work at Stanford Special Collections, the Rumsey Map Center, and the Huntington Library, considering how objects such as Eadweard Muybridge photographs, scale maps and models of California, guidebooks to the 1912 Panama Pacific Exposition, and records of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake mediate, via panoramic form, senses of place and space and engage with natural disaster.
Description is both a topic and a method for Rachel’s dissertation -- by close-reading her objects of study, she considers how description “can also be a restorative practice, or a tool for recovery.” Through this practice, Rachel aims to “give greater texture” to American description in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Taken together, our Dee Fellows’ projects offer insight into nearly two centuries of western history, art, and literature. We are thrilled to have Charlotte and Rachel join the Center this year, and look forward to the contributions they will make to our research community.