Western Historians in Western Wilderness

Earlier this month, the ICW team and ICW graduate students took a trip out to Grand Teton National Park and the Murie Ranch/Teton Science Schools to explore ways to integrate western and public histories. We’ve collected reflections and photos on the experience to share with you.

BILL DEVERELL  For me, this was a dream come true.  Drawing together Jackson and Teton Science and the Murie Ranch and the doctoral community in western history at USC is something I have wanted to do for at least two years.  Being able to conspire with the ICW team, my mother-in-law, my friends at Teton Science Schools, Dornsife administrators, and Dornsife business office colleagues was fun and we all found ways to push the ball forward.  Getting off the plane – you unload right on the tarmac and THERE ARE THOSE MOUNTAINS – made it all so beautifully real.  The western historian graduate-student cohort was so fun to be with: smart, funny, curious, and so happy to be able to feel what this landscape and those who care for it mean.  I truly loved every minute of it.

Bill

JULIA BROWN-BERNSTEIN  Before our trip to the Grand Tetons, the only National Park I had ever visited in the United States was the Statue of Liberty National Park. As a native New Yorker, with an identity firmly rooted in that city’s subway and skyline, I have struggled to articulate my relationship to the American West. Fortunately, this is no longer a vexing problem in my life. After spending four days staring up at the craggy snow-peaked range of the Tetons, I have acquired a word to explain my connection to the West and a metaphor to buoy me through the vicissitudes of the PhD program: “viewshed.” Viewshed is a geographical area that is visible from a location. Growing up, I marveled at the skyscrapers from my viewshed on the sidewalk. It gave me a sense of wonderment and perspective. It challenged me to focus on what was within my purview and be comfortable with what lay outside. In the throes of my second year of graduate school, I return to this metaphor of the viewshed. Except this time, it is not Manhattan’s skyscrapers but rather the massive rock formations of the American West. And this time, I’m not standing on the sidewalk but on the patted earth with my ICW colleagues by my side and our visionary advisor, Bill, with the bear spray upfront.

TAHIREH HICKS  Getting to spend this past weekend in the Tetons with ICW was a truly transformative experience. Hearing from public historians while surrounded by the very nature their work helps to protect gave me new insight into the possibilities for history’s impact outside of academia. I arrived back in LA feeling energized and inspired to find new ways to connect my historical research to wider communities.  And perhaps most of all, I came away from the trip feeling more deeply connected to my colleagues and excited to collaborate with them in the future.

Julia Tahi

Tahireh Hicks and Julia Brown-Bernstein

JILLAINE COOK  The ICW trip to the Tetons provided a much-needed opportunity to reflect on my role as a historian and to build community with scholars I plan to continue collaborating with long after my time in grad school is over. Being away from the busyness of Los Angeles and the pressures of teaching responsibilities allowed me to think about my own work and develop ideas enhanced by conversations with my colleagues about their work. Lincoln Bramwell’s insights (Lincoln is Chief Historian for the U.S. Forest Service) about how historians should engage with the public both in academic and non-academic settings helped me clarify long-term goals for my scholarship and the impact I want to be able to have. Thinking about these ideas and holding these conversations on the Murie Ranch underscored the importance of being engaged in the world and the difference a few committed individuals can make.

LAURA DOMINGUEZ  Our extended weekend in the Tetons was the perfect mid-semester reminder of what it means to be a public scholar, a community member, and a mindful resident and student of the American West. Important conversations about our professional ambitions and intellectual curiosities took place on hallowed grounds and I left knowing that our conversations added new layers to its history. The trip truly renewed my sense of purpose as I approach my doctoral exams. Above all, I am grateful to ICW for carving out this space for graduate students to share in one another’s work, visions, and friendship.

Jillaine Laura

Jillaine Cook and Laura Dominguez

WILL COWAN  Our time at the Ranch, though chilly, burned too quick. I was deeply moved by Chris Girard’s story of the Muries and their love for each other and their love for the life systems they embraced. I was heartened by the emphasis on the importance of place and deep time and intimate knowledge only forged through decades and generations of lived experience in place. And I remain hopeful about an efflorescence in Native stewardship and traditional ecological management practices. Flying home over the great Salt Lake, the great divide on one horizon, and the great ocean on the other, I’m reminded again what makes the Great West: geography—immense, ancient, multitudinous, mysterious, magical.

Will

Will Cowan

YESENIA HUNTER Being in the Tetons with my ICW peers was a turning point in my scholarly pathway. The mountains seemed unlimited and I felt inspired to let that shape my questions and ideas as I worked on my prospectus and thought about my future as a Historian of the West. Being able to meet colleagues in public history helped me to expand my desires for future work. And experiencing the Tetons with my colleagues settled for me that, whether we choose academic or public histories, our scholarly lives are intertwined and supported by good mentors and each other.

Yesenia

Yesenia Hunter

SIMON JUDKINS  The story of the lives of Olaus and Mardy Murie that we heard from Teton Science Schools’ Chris Girard on Friday night set the tone of the whole weekend for me. The connection to the past that she felt and projected through her storytelling had a powerful, almost spellbinding, effect. I was intrigued by her and by my reaction to the story. Over the weekend that self-examination became a broader curiosity about the process by which people impose continuity upon places and the forms that process takes.

Clearly, both the Muries and the Teton Science Schools staff were deeply invested in building a community where they could live out their environmentalist ethics daily. Their praxis functioned as a connective thread between the Muries’ past and our own, strengthened through songs and storytelling and acts of archival preservation and architectural imitation, all set against the venerable backdrop of the Teton Mountains. This past weekend we adapted this process and made it our own, created our own rituals, and told our own stories about “the West” and our role as mediators of its continuing re-imagination. So while I realize that this is a cliché with its own troubled history, it remains interesting for me to think about how “the West” continues to function symbolically to structure the ways that we re-connect with utopian pasts already realized. So too does it shape the new futures we imagine will one day mend the same broken planet the Muries inhabited.

DAN WALLACE  There are times as a grad student when you can climb above the stress and self-doubt and see with clarity the importance of your work. Our trip to the Tetons provided one of those moments. Staying at Murie Ranch reminded me that as historians of the American West we are knotted to a special landscape and the legacy of those who worked to understand and protect it. Not only do we have an obligation to tell an honest and inclusive history, we are also in a position to take up the mantle of environmental protection and conservation. All while finding the time to go for a hike.

Dan Simon

Simon Judkins and Dan Wallace

CARLOS PARRA  Learning about the Tetons’ natural and human heritage – particularly with respect to its place in U.S. conservation history – has inspired me as I revise my dissertation. My intellectual interests have moved along a variety of trajectories covering the U.S.-Mexican borderlands, the multiethnic urban West, and the cultural history of western North America, but it is the region’s unique environment that initially situated my interest in its human odysseys. Staying in Grand Teton National Park where Mardy and Olaus Murie lived and advocated for the protection of the West’s wildlands was a privilege because of the connection the Teton Science Schools forged between us and the Muries’ legacy. Graduate work often diminishes the romantic spirit that attracts us to studying history but learning about the Muries’ unending love for one another and the natural environment reaffirmed the fundamentally human character of the histories we work to recover and promote.

Carlos

Carlos Parra

GARY STEIN  Majestic. I keep returning to this word. It is not one I often use when I speak (does anyone?). But the word must have rolled off my tongue dozens of times while amongst the Tetons with my ICW colleagues. The mountains were majestic; eating lunch on Jenny Lake was majestic; staying at Murie Ranch, where Olaus and Mardy Murie lived, proved majestic; hiking amongst the snow-covered trees and peering out to Grand Teton was breathtakingly majestic; and yes, the company and conversations were majestic as well. It is rare that a large group of people feels so overwhelmingly and similarly grateful to be together in a specific place. But over and over again, the graduate students kept sharing with each other how fortunate we feel to study with Bill Deverell, work with ICW, and have the chance to talk western history amidst the great landscapes of the West. Our hosts at the Murie Ranch and Teton Science Schools were incredibly gracious, passionate, and inspiring. It was refreshing to hear about the opportunities that lie ahead for us history graduate students, particularly those who land outside of the academy. The preservation of our natural wonders and diverse history and spreading that legacy to future generations describes the type of work that I am passionate about. And I was able to consider what some of that work may look like during our retreat to the Tetons. It was a rejuvenating trip with fellow students of the West, from sparking new conversations and initiatives to singing around the fire and watching the sunrise beam off the top of Grand Teton. How… majestic.

Gary

Gary Stein

Group

The whole western history crew

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