089: Samuel Truett, 42


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

89: Samuel Truett, 4-7-08

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor, Department of History, University of New Mexico
Area of Research: borderlands history, environmental history, U.S. West and Mexico, U.S. culture and empire, family and migration history, transnational history, comparative frontiers and borderlands
Education: Ph.D. Yale University, Department of History, 1997
Major Publications: Truett is the author of Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (Yale, 2006), selected as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2007 by Choice Magazine; and co-editor (with Elliott Young) ofSamuel Truett JPG  Continental Crossroads: Remapping U.S.-Mexico Borderlands History (Duke, 2004). He is currently working on two new book projects, Old New Worlds: Ruins, Borderlands, and Empire in America, and A Cossack on the U.S.-Mexico Frontier: The Transnational Life and Times of Emilio Kosterlitzky.
Truett is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters, and reviews including among others: “Epics of Greater America: Herbert Eugene Bolton’s Quest for a Transnational American History,” in Interpreting Spanish Colonialism: Empires, Nations, and Legends, ed. Christopher Schmidt-Nowara and John Nieto-Phillips (University of New Mexico, 2005), winner of the 2006 Bolton-Kinnaird Award in Borderlands History; “The Ghosts of Frontiers Past: Making and Unmaking Space in the Borderlands,” Journal of the Southwest 46 (Summer 2004), 309-50; “Making Transnational History: Nations, Regions, and Borderlands” (co-authored with Elliott Young), and “Transnational Warrior: Emilio Kosterlitzky and the Transformation of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” in Continental Crossroads, ed. Truett and Young (Duke, 2004); and “Neighbors by Nature: Rethinking Region, Nation, and Environmental History in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” Environmental History 2 (April 1997), 160-78.
Awards: Truett is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Lloyd Lewis Fellowship in American History, The Newberry Library, Chicago, IL, 2008-2009; Center for New World Comparative Studies Fellowship, The John Carter Brown Library, Providence, RI, 2008; Feminist Research Institute Research Grant, University of New Mexico, 2007; College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Grant, University of New Mexico, for pilot Arizona-New Mexico borderlands/environmental history field institute, 2007; Shoemaker Endowed Fellowship, Department of History, University of New Mexico, 2007; Bolton-Kinnaird Award in Borderlands History, Western History Association, for best article on borderlands history, 2006; Research Allocations Committee Grant, University of New Mexico, 2006; Mellon Fellowship, The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, 2004-2005; Snead-Wertheim Endowed Lectureship in Anthropology and History, University of New Mexico, 2001-2002; J. William Fulbright Lectureship, University of Tampere, Finland, 2000-2001; Research Allocations Committee Grant, University of New Mexico, 1999; Latin American and Iberian Institute Field Research Grant, University of New Mexico, 1999; William P. Clements Research Fellowship in Southwest Studies, William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, 1997-1998; Frederick W. Beinecke Dissertation Prize, Yale University, 1998; Mrs. Giles P. Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities, Yale University, 1995-1996; Yale Center for International and Area Studies Doctoral Research Grant, Yale University, 1994-1995; Yale Council on Latin American Studies Pre-Dissertation Grant, Yale University, 1993; Ralph H. Gabriel Fellowship in History, Yale University, 1992-93; Yale University Graduate Fellowship, Yale University, 1991-1995.
Additional Info:
Visiting Lecturer in History, California Institute of Technology; while on a Mellon Fellowship at the Huntington Library, taught undergraduate class in borderlands history, 2005, and J. William Fulbright Lecturer in North American Studies, The University of Tampere, Finland; taught classes in western U.S., environmental, and borderlands history, 2000-2001, and William P. Clements Fellow in Southwest Studies, at Southern Methodist University, 1997-1998.
Co-organized in 2007, with Katherine Morrissey (University of Arizona), Paul Hirt (Arizona State University), and Marsha Weisiger (New Mexico State University) a pilot summer field institute in borderlands and environmental history, based in ranchlands and mining landscapes in New Mexico, Sonora (Mexico), and Arizona; have since applied for funding for future regional field institutes based on the same model.
Co-organized in 2006, with Ann Massmann, Center for Southwest Research (University of New Mexico) a pilot History Department-Zimmerman Library undergraduate seminar based on “total immersion” in the rare book collections and archives.

Personal Anecdote

I avoided history for years—perhaps because I found it hard enough to keep up with the present. As a child and then a teenager, I was in constant motion, following my wildlife biologist father all across the western U.S. and Canada. As he was chasing and counting critters between Tucson and Yellowknife, my brother and I became experts in the human species (always new kids on the playground, always trying to stay alive). It’s a kind of childhood that prepares one well for anthropology (which I studied as an undergraduate), but it took me a while to parlay this into an appreciation of the past.

History came soon after college. After finishing at the University of Arizona, I spent $99 on a one-way Greyhound ticket to see the wild east, and began to work at a Xerox shop in Cambridge. I warmed up the equipment each morning at 5:30, and by 2:30 I was free for the day. I would take the T to the Boston Public Library, browse the stacks, take as many books as I could to the Arnold Arboretum and read until dark. It was a liberating year: I had time to read anything I wanted (and not just what I had to read for exams or papers), so each day I chose something different: astronomy or literary criticism or paleozoology or geography or modernist fiction.

I knew I wanted to go on to graduate school—I liked the idea of thinking and writing and teaching for a living—but I’d grown lukewarm on anthropology. I wanted to write about people, but in a more humanistic way. I also wanted to learn more about how people and the natural world had changed in tandem, perhaps because I’d been raised by an ecologist who taught me to read history in landscapes and not just in books. And mostly I wanted to preserve that feeling of wonder and serendipity that came from moving freely through the library. I worried that I’d eventually have to abandon my wandering ways, and settle on a single letter of the Library of Congress alphabet. I tried them out for size—the C’s, the F’s, the G’s, and the Q’s—and then one day I took a left instead of a right into one of the stacks, and stumbled across the field of environmental history.

The rest is history, as they say. Environmental history was just the beginning. It opened my eyes to the importance of staying in motion, of moving across the borders we draw to distinguish ourselves from other scholars, of seeing what things look like from the other side. To understand relationships between human and non-human worlds, environmental historians have learned to speak to geologists, ecologists, literary scholars, geographers, and so on: they’ve learned to browse the G’s, the Q’s, the P’s. Similar nomadic, border-crossing habits underpin my interests in borderlands history. To understand how the U.S. changed in tandem with the world across its borders, I often find myself on the road: in other nations’ archives, reading other languages, taking an outsider view. Environmental and borderlands histories are about place and rootedness— but they’re also histories of the world at large, and the ways people and things and ideas move.

Perhaps it’s due simply to my peripatetic upbringing and serendipitous turns of fate down dusty library stacks, but I’m increasingly convinced that historians can benefit from a life in motion. By keeping our minds moving across disciplinary, geographical, and temporal registers, we may be in the ideal position to keep our eyes on that fugitive subject we call the American past.


By Samuel Truett

  • In the early twentieth century, Arizonans viewed their neighbors to the south as siblings in an interlocking family history of sorts, a history that began with shared struggles on the “wild” frontier and pointed towards a Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands JPG shared modern future. . . . One cannot study an early twentieth-century map of this region without seeing connections: railroad lines, like strands of a spider’s web, converge on, indeed, almost overwhelm the line between nations. . . . What follows is a history of this lost world, which became by the early twentieth century one of the most industrialized and urban places in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. People dreamed about this landscape in ways that may seem remarkably familiar to us today, in an age of globalization and NAFTA. They expected economic development to knit Mexico and the United States together and carry them as progressive partners into a modern future. This is the history of what actually happened. Corporations, states, and regional entrepreneurs hoped to domesticate and modernize a fugitive landscape–what they saw as a wild and barbaric frontier–but it continually slipped out of their control. Their reorganization of the borderlands remained tenuous, uneven, and incomplete. Over the short term they often made impressive gains, but in the long run, their dreams were dashed and their stories were forgotten. — Samuel Truett in “Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands”

About Samuel Truett

  • “Truett has written one of the most compelling borderlands narratives to date. His beautifully written and efficiently organized history details the well-developed lines of economic, industrial, and personal connection that; have long linked the U.S. to its southern neighbor. . . . This book is a fine contribution to the fields of western, environmental, and Chicano/a history as well as the national histories of the U.S. and Mexico. Highly recommended.” — Choice Magazine Review of “Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands”
  • “Truett’s book . . . reinforces what fiction by Carlos Fuentes and John Nichols and movies such as John Sayles’s Lone Star have said: the regions around borders defy the categorization governments wish to put on them. It’s a paradox: the divide both connects and separates.” —- Oscar Villalon, reviewing “Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands” in Virginia Quarterly Review
  • Samuel Truett provides a concrete example of what transnational history looks like and what it can reveal. Fugitive Landscapes puts into practice what many American historians urge, but rarely do themselves. — Richard White, Stanford University, writing on “Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands”
  • “[A] rich and engaging regional historical narrative. . . . An important contribution to the borderland scholar’s library, but it also has lessons for other geographers who till the borderlands of regional cultural geography. On one hand, Fugitive Landscapes may be one of the best pieces of research and writing about the historical geography of any part of the Mexican borderlands, and on the other, it is a vibrant example, a model in the truest sense, of inspired historical regional geographic scholarship. — Daniel Arreola, reviewing Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands in Journal of Cultural Geography
  • In this richly textured history of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands, Samuel Truett deftly peels off layers of multiethnic, transnational history to reveal what he calls fugitive landscapes. . . . The author presents one of the most significant works on understanding the transnational process. . . . The study will serve as a model, offering new theoretical constructs without forcing the reader to navigate a tortuous treatise on the meaning of this important framework.-F. Arturo Rosales, reviewing Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands in American Historical Review
  • “A rich, vivid, and satisfying book. Scholars of northern Mexico, the American West, the borderlands, and, more broadly, of frontiers, international labor, and the Gilded Age will all find valuable insights in Truett’s work. The book’s attention to detail and to characters, its length, and the author’s lucid, engaging style make Fugitive Landscapes an excellent choice for graduate and undergraduate classes alike. — Brian Delay, reviewing “Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands” in Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas
  • “Truett’s writing style is economical and uncomplicated, in a manner expected by historians and welcomed by anthropologists. . . . Truett’s effort to move the border from the edge to the center of the historical narrative is a resounding success. It is recommended reading for any anthropologist working on transnational subjects, if only as inspiration to transcend the constraints imposed by political boundaries.” — Jeremy Kulisheck, reviewing “Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands” in Journal of Anthropological Research
  • “In a brilliant introduction Samuel Truett and Elliott Young guide the reader through long-standing and current debates over the nature of frontiers, borders, and borderlands more generally. . . . This collection highlights some of the best writing in borderlands and Southwest studies and is suitable for classroom use. . . . Overall this fine collection of essays adds considerably to our understanding of this developing field and challenges historians to take seriously the ‘transnational historical terrain'” — Marc Simon Rodriguez, reviewing “Continental Crossroads: Remapping U.S.-Mexico Borderlands History in The Journal of Southern History”
  • “While duly acknowledging the foundational work of earlier generations of border-crossing historians, Samuel Truett and Elliott Young and their gritty band of young collaborators bring into focus a more socially complex, multiracial, and multiethnic world of transnational players and history-makers. . . . They have thrown down the gauntlet; I suspect many more young scholars of the United States and the American West, of Latin America and Mexico, of Chicano/a and Ethnic Studies, will rush to join them because they sense that if they don’t, they risk becoming obsolete before they even begin their careers.” — Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Brown University, writing on “Continental Crossroads: Remapping U.S.-Mexico Borderlands History”
  • “Truett and Young have produced a theoretically savvy anthology that will promote additional research and writing about the U.S.-Mexico border. Their edited volume will find an eager audience among college students and professional historians alike, especially since each contributor has shown how far we have come since the days of Herbert Eugene Bolton.” — Michael M. Brescia, reviewing “Continental Crossroads: Remapping U.S.-Mexico Borderlands History” in History: Reviews of New Books
  • “[An] exceptional new anthology. . . . [A] set of insightful and nuanced contributions to borderlands history. . . . This is an important book that should be read both by scholars and students of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, and by those who are interested in the relationships between nation building and identity formation.” — Eric V. Meeks, reviewing “Continental Crossroads: Remapping U.S.-Mexico Borderlands History in The Americas”

Posted on Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 11:06 PM

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