UA to Host Summer Field Institute

The University of Arizona will host a program next summer to introduce undergraduate faculty to the history and environmental fabric of the Southwest.

Katherine Morrissey, an associate professor of history at The University of Arizona, has received a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities for a project titled "Nature and History at the Nation's Edge: A Field Institute in Environmental and Borderlands History."

The institute is for 25 faculty members who teach undergraduates at community and four-year colleges and universities. The goal is to provide them with a deeper understanding of the environment and history in the region. It will run from June 14 to July 11, 2009, and will include a 15-day tour through the arid lands and historical landscapes of Arizona, New Mexico and Sonora, Mexico, starting and ending at the UA.

Morrissey expects applicants from disciplines as varied as history and environmental history, Latin American and Mexican American studies, geography and anthropology.

"There is no better time than the present to get undergraduate teachers into the field and across borders to learn about the cultural and environmental histories that connect the U.S. to Mexico and the world at large," said Morrissey, the project director for the institute. "Borderlands history and environmental history can help us understand how people and nature have been crossing borders for decades, if not for centuries."

During their time in the field, participants will examine three interrelated ecological regions: the arid valley grasslands with centuries-old ranching cultures; the forested mountain ranges of the Chiricahuas and their legacy of mixed 19th-century land use and 20th-century federally-managed multiple use; and the urban and industrial mining landscapes that link Sonora and Arizona.

Participants will learn how to see the landscape in a whole new light. They will explore the effects of 19th-century human activities, such as ranching, guano mining, settlement and scientific management. One example is the creosote-dominated landscape along the southern Arizona/New Mexico border. This biome is usually perceived as "natural," but is actually the result of overgrazing during the livestock boom of the late 19th century.

Participants also will pay particular attention to questions raised by the restoration of habitats and species, including prairie dogs, peregrine falcons, Bolson tortoises, Mexican gray wolves and bison.

The UA's Summer Institute is only one of eight institutes funded by NEH for 2009, and acknowledges the UA's expertise in environmental and borderland history. Along with Morrissey, Samuel Truett (University of New Mexico), Paul Hirt (Arizona State University) and Marsha Weisiger (New Mexico State University) will be the principal faculty.

Several national and regional scholars at the institute will include Cynthia Radding (University of North Carolina), Ned Blackhawk (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Dan Flores (University of Montana), Jupiter Martinez Ramirez (Centro INAH Sonora), Dale Curtis Miles, and Stephen Pyne and Mark Klett (Arizona State University).

UA faculty members teaching at the institute will come from history, anthropology, the Southwest Center, the College of Public Health, the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy and the Institute for the Environment and Society. Participants also will attend seminars in the UA Library's Special Collections and Center for Creative Photography, and the Arizona State Museum.

Morrissey and her colleagues directed a smaller-scale version of this field institute in May 2007, a project funded in part by a donation from UA history alumnus Jim Hunter and his wife, Joanne. The pilot program allowed the researchers to put together a network of institutional field bases, including Ted Turner's Armendaris and Ladder ranches in New Mexico.

Morrissey is an environmental and cultural historian whose research covers the 19th- and 20th-century North American West. Her books and articles, like "Mental Territories: Mapping the Inland Empire" and "Picturing Arizona: The Photographic Record of the 1930s," explore the region in bi-national context and visual representations.

The Institute has been designated by NEH as a "We the People" project, whose goal is to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture