David J. Weber

First Impressions, lasting impact: Literary partnership completes an unfinished journey

David J. Weber

David J. Weber

When SMU historian David J. Weber died in 2010, he left behind an unfinished manuscript that would have represented a creative departure from his many academic works. One of the most distinguished and productive scholars of the American Southwest, Weber envisioned his next book, First Impressions: A Reader’s Journey to Iconic Places of the Southwest, as a new perspective on some of the Southwest’s most distinctive sites.

More than a typical travelogue, the book would bring the reader into the minds of explorers, missionaries, and travelers as they encountered and then wrote about memorable places both manmade and naturally formed, becoming the first non-natives to do so. From impressions of 15 sites in Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah and southern Colorado, readers would gain present-day as well as historical perspectives.  The destinations would range from the gracefully sculpted rock formations of Canyon de Chelly, to the mesa fortress of Acoma Pueblo, to the conflict-ridden village of Santa Fe, described by an 18th century Franciscan as, “A rough stone set in fine metal,” referring to, “The very beautiful plain on which it sits.”

But first the journey of the unfinished manuscript would have to continue. David’s widow, Carol Weber, who had served consistently as the final reviewer of all of David’s manuscripts, knew that this project deserved a place in her husband’s legacy of eloquent and inspired scholarship. As she considered who might complete the manuscript, Carol turned to their friend, author William deBuys. Like David, Bill had received a shower of honors for his creative and scholarly works. In addition, Bill had earned the distinction of being a fellow of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, founded in 1996 by David at SMU, where he taught for 34 years.

William deBuys

William deBuys

Over a number of these years, David and Bill grew in admiration of each other’s work. David had revolutionized contemporary understanding of borderlands history. Bill had earned a national reputation for his analyses of environmental issues threatening the Southwest. They also grew as friends sharing a deep affection for the region, its people and places. “For both of us, the Southwest has been a source of lifelong fascination, and through the vehicle of this book we hope to share it,” Bill writes in the preface of First Impressions, published by Yale University Press in August.

The production of First Impressions required some highly focused sleuthing and sifting through a bounty of materials in the three offices of David Weber – in SMU’s History Department and at the family’s homes in Dallas and in New Mexico’s Zuni Mountains, near the monumental El Morro, or Inscription Rock, so called because it bears the signatures of early explorers etched into its sandstone façade. Each of David’s offices was filled to capacity with books, research notes, correspondence, manuscripts, drafts, and computers holding the contents of David’s prolific research and writing. Carol found a hard copy of David’s table of contents and a number of chapters in different states of completion. She and Bill worked with Center for Southwest Studies staff, especially Ruth Ann Elmore, to download and decipher David’s computer files.

The Center had awarded Bill a second fellowship to work on the project.

“I chose Bill because I knew he was a sensitive and wonderful writer, and David felt the same way about him,” Carol said. “I couldn’t imagine any other historian finishing David’s work in a way that would have pleased David because it would be so beautifully written.”

'First Impressions' book coverIn the preface to First Impressions, Bill recalls cherished conversations with David about “the general business of making good sentences, paragraphs, and pages. David was a naturally gifted writer.”

Aside from representing his admiration for David, Bill said he took on the project because he “thought the concept of the book was brilliant and offered a truly exciting and informative way to explore the great places of the region. David, ever the professor, had a wonderful pedagogical purpose: He wanted to present primary sources — original historical documents and images — to people who otherwise might be unlikely to encounter them. In this I completely concurred. It is a form of stealth teaching — and wonderful fun at the same time.”

The result of their literary partnership is a book that seamlessly combines the poetry and precision of both writers. Bill’s numerous books include River of Traps: A New Mexico Mountain Life, a finalist for the nonfiction Pulitzer Prize in 1991; Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range; A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest; and The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of the Earth’s Rarest Creatures. In September 2017 he is receiving the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, for outstanding writing and literature.

David’s works include 27 books, many of them recognized as path-breaking in the field by such organizations as the American Historical Association. The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico itself won six awards. Two governments gave David the highest honor they can bestow on foreigners. King Juan Carlos of Spain named him to the Real Orden de Isabel la Católica, the Spanish equivalent of a knighthood. Mexico named him to the Orden Mexicana del Águila Azteca (the Order of the Aztec Eagle). He was one of a few U.S. historians elected to the Mexican Academy of History. Closer to home, in 2007 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Upon release of First Impressions, Carol told Bill: “It was my love for David that prompted me to ask you if you would finish the book, and it was such an act of love for David, I think, that you willingly took so much time out of your life to finish it for David and our family.  Somehow David’s life now seems complete.”

Complete – but not finished. Now, First Impressions, with William deBuys, adds to the lasting legacy of David J. Weber and the rich literary resources of their beloved Southwest.

— Written by Patricia LaSalle-Hopkins

Calendar Highlights: Oct. 22, 2014

15210Contested Spaces of Early America: The William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies presents “Contested Spaces of Early America” Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall. The event will celebrate the publication of Contested Spaces of Early Americaan edited collection of scholarly essays supported by the Clements Center and honoring the pioneering work of David J. Weber (1940-2001), former SMU Dedman History Professor. Although this event is free and open to the public, seating is limited. E-mail the Clements Center to RSVP or call 214-768-3684.

Tower Center Monthly Seminar: As part of the Tower Center Monthly SeminarPaul Avery will discuss “Tempting Fate: Interests, Red Lines and Conflict in Nuclear Monopoly.” Avery is a postdoctoral fellow at the SMU Tower Center for Political Studies, who prior to joining the Tower Center was a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow in the Security Studies Program at MIT. The seminar will take place Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. in 227 Carr Collins Hall. While the event is free and open to the public, attendees are encouraged to RSVP.

Public Lecture on “Jews and Muslims in Christian America”: Sponsored by the Weatherred Memorial Fund and the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute, religious historian Charles L. Cohen will discuss “Jews and Muslims in Christian America.” This event will take place Thursday, Oct. 23, 4 p.m., in 100 Hyer Hall. For more information please contact Richard Cogley or Katherine Engel.

Juan Muñoz, Seated Figure Looking Backwards, 1996

Juan Muñoz, Seated Figure Looking Backwards, 1996

Museum Evening Lecture: Led by independent scholar and consultant Charlie Wylie, Meadows Museum presents “Juan Muñoz, Looking Back” Thursday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. in the Bob Smith Auditorium. This lecture will examine Juan Muñoz’s (1953-2001) Seated Figure Looking Backwards (1996), a recent gift from the Barrett Collection.  For more information call 214-768-4677.

Family Weekend 2014: Sponsored by the Student Foundation and organized by the Family Weekend committee, SMU Family Weekend 2014 will take place Oct. 24-26. Family members from across the nation will “Follow the Clues to SMU” for this three-day event to experience campus life. Stay updated with everything Family Weekend by connecting with Student Foundation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Engaged Learning Symposium: SMU’s Fall 2014 Engaged Learning Symposium will feature the work of twenty-five students in research, service, creative and internship programs. The event takes place Friday, Oct. 24, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center.

The Unstoried Life: The Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute’s “The Situated Self” Annual Fellows Seminar presents University of Texas at Austin Professor Galen Strawson in a discussion of “The Unstoried Life.” Taking place Friday, Oct. 24 at 1 p.m. in 233 Umphrey Lee Center, this lecture features the question of: “Should ethically serious people seek unity in their lives?” For more information please contact Elizabeth Fielding or visit the DCII webpage.

Product Quality-Proliferation and Differentiation in Export Markets: Assistant Professor Maia Linask from the University of Richmond will present her recent work in the area of industrial organization and international trade. This event will take place Friday, Oct. 24, 2 p.m., in 303 Umphrey Lee Center.  For more information, please visit the Department of Economics homepage.

Weber-Clements Prize celebrates new name, first repeat winner

'A Great Aridness' book coverSMU’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies celebrates the new name – and the first repeat winner – of its prestigious annual book prize with a lecture and booksigning by author and conservationist William deBuys on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 in the University’s DeGolyer Library

DeBuys will discuss A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest as the 2012 winner of the renamed David J. Weber-William P. Clements Prize for the Best Non-Fiction Book on Southwestern America. The evening begins with a 6 p.m. reception and lecture at 6:30 p.m. A book-signing will follow immediately after the lecture.

Learn more about William deBuys

In A Great Aridness, deBuys paints a vivid picture of what the Southwest might look like when the heat turns up and the water runs out. This semi-arid region – vulnerable to water shortages, rising temperatures, wildfires and many other environmental challenges – is poised to bear the heaviest consequences of global environmental change in the United States.

Examining factors such as vanishing wildlife, forest die-backs and the over-allocation of the Colorado River (upon which nearly 30 million people depend for water), the author tells the stories of the climatologists and others who are helping to untangle the causes and effects of global warming. What happens in the Southwest, deBuys suggests, will provide a glimpse of what other mid-latitude arid lands such as the Mediterranean Basin, southern Africa and the Middle East will experience in the coming years. A 2008-09 Guggenheim Fellow, deBuys spent his fellowship year working on the book.

A Great Aridness is deeply researched, engagingly written, powerful in its arguments, and of urgent importance to anyone interested in the Southwest,” wrote the Weber-Clements Book Prize judging committee upon its selection. “This is clearly the work of a mature scholar and writer at the top of his game, and with a story to tell of critical importance.”

Clements Center Director Andrew Graybill added: “A Great Aridness is easily one of the best books about the single most pressing environmental issue of our time. And it’s written with Bill deBuys’ typical clarity and grace, making it accessible to anyone interested in the future of the American Southwest, and the planet more broadly.”

One of deBuys’ six books, Salt Dreams: Land and Water in Low-Down California, won the first Clements Prize in 1999. (DeBuys was the Carl B. and Florence E. King Senior Fellow in Southwest History at the Clements Center in 1999-2000.) Another work, River of Traps: A New Mexico Mountain Life, was a finalist for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in general non-fiction. He has also written Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range, The Walk, and Seeing Things Whole: The Essential John Wesley Powell.

An active conservationist, deBuys was the founding chairman of the Valles Caldera Trust (2001-04), which manages the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico. He has helped protect more than 150,000 acres in New Mexico, Arizona and North Carolina. He lives and writes on a small farm in northern New Mexico.

Since 1999, the Clements Center for Southwest Studies has presented the award as the William P. Clements Prize for the Best Non-Fiction Book on Southwestern America. The prize was named for the former Texas governor and the Center’s founding benefactor, who passed away in May 2011.

In spring 2012, the Center approached the Western History Association (WHA) about taking over the administration of the prize as a way to honor both Governor Clements and David J. Weber, the Center’s founding director and past WHA president, who passed away in August 2010. The Weber-Clements Book Prize is now presented by the WHA Council and the Clements Center and is now administered by the WHA.

The $2,500 Weber-Clements Book Prize honors fine writing and original research on the American Southwest. The competition is open to any nonfiction book, including biography, on any aspect of Southwestern life, past or present.

> Visit SMU’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies online

‘Contested Spaces’ key to 2010-11 Clements Center symposium on the early Americas

Antonio Pereiro map, 1545, courtesy of the John Carter Brown LibraryThe common history of the Americas – bridging conceptions of borderlands both continental and hemispheric – is the theme of the 2010-11 Annual Public Symposium, presented by SMU’s William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies.

“The Contested Spaces of Early America” is cosponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the Clements Center. It will take place 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. April 2 in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall.

This year’s event takes as its model and inspiration the work of the late David J. Weber, Clements Center founding director and Dedman Professor of History in SMU’s William P. Clements Department of History. The symposium theme was originally organized to honor Weber upon his retirement.

“We wanted a theme that would transcend some of our usual models for understanding the histories of the Americas and the borderlands,” says symposium co-organizer Juliana Barr, associate professor of history at the University of Florida and former Clements Center Fellow. “David was expansive in his own work in using a larger framework to understand the histories of those lands that were colonies of New Spain, as well as the borders of Mexico and the U.S. Southwest.

“There are a number of interesting commonalities across the histories of North and South America,” she adds. “It’s a good exercise to step back and take a larger look and think in new ways about framing these histories.”

An initial meeting and program took place in Fall 2010 at the McNeil Center. The participants will gather at SMU this Saturday to present their revised papers.

One highlight of the conference is its diversity of both scholars and scholarship, Barr says. “Our presenters include a Canadian scholar who specializes in the history of New France, scholars from Mexico and Argentina, a literature scholar, a Native American scholar, one former Ph.D. student of David Weber’s, and three former Clements Center Fellows, as well as traditional ethnohistorians,” she says. “With that kind of diversity, you begin to build bridges among these seemingly disparate areas of scholarship. It’s the conversation among them all that will be the most exciting.”

The symposium is open to the public and has been approved for Continuing Education Credit for teachers. “Texas teachers face a lot of challenges in the classroom,” says Barr, herself a native Texan. “The state is such a crossroads for so many histories. It’s one of the most fascinating states to teach about because of its own diversity. How can we look at all these individual communities and link them across borders that include everything from European empires to Native American lands?

“These larger frameworks may help teachers help their students create those bridges between the histories of the larger American and global worlds.”

Preregistration cost is $5 for general admission ($20 including lunch at the SMU Faculty Club) and $2 for graduate students ($10 including lunch). Register online or contact the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, 214-768-3684.

> Find a complete schedule at the Clements Center Annual Symposium homepage

Above, Antonio Pereira’s 1545 map of the Americas, courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.

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