Field Institute in Environmental & Borderlands History

2009 NEH Summer Institute
for University and College Teachers

June 14-July 11



Preliminary Detailed Schedule and Readings

To give you a deeper sense of our Nature and History at the Nation's Edge summer institute, we have posted our preliminary daily schedule, including institute readings and recommended resources, below. This preliminary schedule is subject to change. You will soon be able to download the complete preliminary detailed schedule and readings as a .pdf file.


WEEK TWO Field Study

Sunday, 21 June
We will gather at 11:30 for a noon departure for the field study tour. We’ll travel from Tucson in UA Motor Pool vans to the Armendaris Ranch just outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and settle into the modern ranch bunkhouses for a 4-night stay. We’ll meet the Armendaris Ranch manager, Tom Waddell, and Diana Hadley (Office of Ethnohistory, UA), who will join us for a dinner and introduce the ranching enterprises in the borderlands, and the historical and ecological restoration work being done on the Armendaris Ranch (located on a former Mexican land grant along the old Camino Real into Mexico). Diana Hadley is currently completing an ethnoecological history of the ranches.

Recommended: John Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places (New York: Walker and Co., 1998).

Monday, 22 June
Today we’ll begin to immerse ourselves in the semi-arid savanna landscape that dominates the Armendaris Ranch, with a focus on several specific animals and the human and environmental histories within which they have been embedded. In the morning, with wildlife biologist and environmental historian Dr. Joe Truett as our guide, we will visit restoration sites for Aplomado Falcons and Bolson Tortoises, and discuss how the histories of these two species during the last century has been tied to human transformations of nature and efforts of science to comprehend and counter these changes. The story of the Bolson Tortoise is particularly apropos to our field institute, since this population is historically indigenous to Mexico, and its restoration north of the border speaks volumes to the transnational dimensions of ecological science. After lunch, Joe Truett and principal faculty Dr. Marsha Weisiger will lead a discussion of grazing, management, and restoration within a context of changing human values and paradigms. Participants will have the option to have time on their own or to join a drive around the ranch to study the effects of grazing (and what has happened since ranch managers have removed the animals from the range), and to look at the ranch’s herd of Oryx, an exotic species from Africa whose introduction into New Mexico had a range of unintended consequences (considered now by many to be a pest). The day ends with a rare treat: dinner near a series of lava tubes that are home to several million bats, and the second-largest bat flight in the United States. This bat population moves between the U.S. and Mexico, and we’ll discuss how scientists are comparing data from this site with data from Mexico to generate a transnational measure of environmental heath. These bat caves were also the site of a guano mining operation at the turn of the century, and we’ll have a chance to examine the old buildings, roads, and technological remains (looking forward also to our later visit to the industrial landscapes of the “copper borderlands”), and talk about the juxtaposition of extractive and scientific landscapes.

Readings: Josh Donlan, et al., “Rewilding North America,” Nature (2005), 913-14; Joe Truett, “Aplomado Falcons and Grazing: Invoking History to Plan Restoration,” Southwestern Naturalist (2002): 379-400; Marsha Weisiger, “Hoofed Locusts,” in Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country (Seattle: University of Washington Press, [2009]).

Recommended: Joe Truett, essay on the Bolson Tortoise, Conservation Biology (forthcoming 2008); Robert H. Webb, et al., The Ribbon of Green: Change in Riparian Vegetation in the Southwestern United States (2007).

Tuesday, 23 June
After breakfast, we’ll head to the Ladder Ranch, adjacent to the Armendaris, to focus in depth on one of the most publicly contested restoration projects: the reintroduction of the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog. Eradicated in the 1920s and 1930s by ranchers and government officials, this former animal pest was brought back to the Ladder and Armendaris ranches in the 1990s to the consternation of many local ranchers. Before lunch we’ll visit two different prairie dog colonies with Joe Truett, who was responsible for the initial reintroduction during the 1990s (also an expert on the history of the prairie dog, its eradication in the early twentieth century, and the ecological consequences of its reintroduction). Our discussion will focus on a series of environmental history riddles: how have we distinguished historically between “bad” and “good” animals, what were the consequences of these human decisions, and how are land managers and ranchers rethinking the moral ecology of the borderlands? After lunch at the Ladder Ranch headquarters, Joe Truett and ranching historian Dr. J.C. Mutchler will discuss the debated terrain of restoration and ranching in the borderlands with the group. In the afternoon, participants can choose to relax back at the Armendaris, or drive with Mutchler and Truett to several nearby sites to look at examples of vegetation and wildlife restoration projects.

Readings: Susan Jones, “Becoming a Pest: Prairie Dog Ecology and the Human Economy in the Euroamerican West,” Environmental History 4 (October 1999): 531-552; C. Hart Merriam, “The Prairie Dog of the Great Plains,” Yearbook of the USDA (1901): 257-70;

Recommended: Jerry L. Holecheck, “Western Ranching at the Crossroads,” Rangelands 23 (2001), 17-21; Conrad Bahre, “Human Impacts on the Grasslands of Southeastern Arizona,” in The Desert Grassland, pp. 230-65.