Center News

Winter Courses Shine New Light on the American West

Mark Gunn via flickr

Each academic year, the Center curates a list of courses related to the North American West. These courses span numerous departments and several schools at Stanford University, and include our signature interdisciplinary class, The American West, which has been offered each spring since 2014.

With the winter quarter approaching, we are pleased to highlight two new courses that will be taught by affiliates of the Bill Lane Center.

From 1789 to the Present, Considering the Story of U.S. Public Lands

The Salt Lake City-based attorney and research professor of Biology Patrick Shea ran the U.S. Bureau of Land Management during the Clinton Administration. “Public lands,” he says, “are a reserve that each generation gets to manage for a brief period of time. How they are passed from one generation to the next is extremely important.” Professor Shea’s class, “What is Public About Public Lands – Who and How to Manage,” (PUBPOL 209), is a seminar that will explore how the United States’ concept of public property has evolved, and correspondingly how its management and caretaking of these lands has also changed.

Public lands are the subject of passionate debate in the United States, particularly so in Professor Shea’s home state of Utah, whose congressional delegation has pushed for increased state oversight of federal lands and last year persuaded the Trump Administration to reduce the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

Overall, the Federal government owns 47 percent of land in the American West, including an outright majority in Oregon, Utah, and Nevada. Recent incidents like the armed standoff at the Malheur, Oregon wildlife reserve have put a spotlight on rural communities that are discontented with public land management, but they are part of a larger continuum dating back to the “sagebrush rebellion” of the 1970s and 80s, when citizen groups and politicians pushed for localized control of open lands in the West.

With nearly 500 million acres of surface public lands under public ownership – and half again more of subsurface territory – the Federal government has much to consider as such various constituencies as native nations, the oil and gas, minerals and mining, ranching, and outdoor recreation industries, as well as research institutions and conservation-oriented NGOs all pursue their goals in public land policy.

Professor Shea says that the course will engage students in writing a “field book” outlining a unified management approach to public lands. He says that he is looking forward to coming back to campus in January. “Stanford was a significant turning point in my life. I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from a college. The faculty and students at Stanford created an intellectual inquiry process I have never tired of.”

The course builds on the Center's Sophomore College field course in September, which took a group of 13 students on a journey to public lands in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah and was led by Bruce Cain and Barton “Buzz” Thompson of Stanford Law School with assistance from Professor Shea. Shea expects that their experiences in western public lands – which can be followed in their interactive map journal – will help nourish the discussion. “I want to see and hear how the present occupants of the Farm are viewing their/our future,” he says.

From “Old Shatterhands” to Spaghetti Westerns: Exploring European Images of the American West

Few Americans have heard of the pulp novelist Karl May, whose adventure tales set in the American Southwest mesmerized German readers at the turn of the 20th Century. More familiar would be Sergio Leone’s iconic “spaghetti westerns” starring Clint Eastwood, like “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” or the recently released film “the Sisters Brothers,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Joaquin Phoenix, and directed by the French indie filmmaker Jacques Audiard.

How European and North African works interpret the American West is the subject of Marie Pierre Ulloa’s course, “European and North African Visions of the American West” (AMSTUD 124B).  Through the transnational lenses of filmmakers and artists of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds; through primarily cinema, but also graphic novels, novels, and murals; the course will explore the transnational aura and stereotypes of the American West’s mythology.

Professor Ulloa is a cultural and intellectual historian lecturing  in the French and Italian Department, on French and Francophone histories of the verbal and visual arts, with a focus on France, North Africa, the Caribbean and the representations of the American West. This fall, she is organizing an event for the Center that looks at the influence of California on North African architecture and home design under the French Protectorate to the post-war era (1912-1960). Ulloa says that the course will include a guest appearance by the renowned French street artist J.R., who co-directed with Agnes Varda the  recent Oscar nominated road film “Faces Places.”

"Considering the American West from the Mediterranean,” says Professor Ulloa, “offers an alternative on the enduring impact of the West mythology, the Western genre in particular, showing how cultural imperialism originating in the West intersects with histories of colonial and national formation, race, and gender in the European and North African context. We will address some of the critical frameworks and challenges involved in designing a class on the American West in the Mediterranean in our current historical climate.”


We welcome Professors Shea and Ulloa to the Bill Lane Center community, and hope readers will explore more winter courses related to the North American West on our website.



View the winter 2018-19 course offerings »

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