William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies

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

‘Why Standing Rock Matters’ is topic for Clements Center panel discussion Monday, Oct. 24, 2016

'Why Standing Rock Matters' graphicThe national protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline have drawn thousands to rallies throughout the country, including Dallas. What is Standing Rock and its history, and what is the basis of the dispute over the pipeline?

An invited panel moderated by Ben Voth, associate professor of corporate communications and public affairs in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, will take on these questions and more at SMU.

“Why Standing Rock Matters: Can Oil and Water Mix?” will take place 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24, 2016 in Crum Auditorium, Collins Executive Education Center.

A reception will precede the panel discussion at 5:30 p.m. Both the reception and forum are free and open to the public. Register online at Eventbrite or call the Clements Center at 214-768-3684.

> Learn more at SMU’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies website

The panelists include the following experts, who will each bring a different perspective to the discussion:

  • Archaeology – Kelly Morgan is president of Lakota Consulting LLC, which provides professional cultural and tribal liaison services in field archaeology. She works to protect cultural and natural resources alongside other archaeologists and environmentalists in North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and on the island of Guam. Currently she is the tribal archaeologist for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Morgan received her PhD. in American Indian studies from the University of Oklahoma.
  • Energy – Craig Stevens is a spokesman for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN), a partnership aimed at supporting the economic development and energy security benefits in the Midwest. MAIN is a project of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, with members in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois – the states crossed by the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Previously Stevens served as a spokesman for two cabinet secretaries, a surgeon general, and a member of Congress. He also worked on two presidential campaigns.
  • Environmental – Andrew Quicksall is the J. Lindsay Embrey Trustee Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering. His research focuses on aqueous metal enrichment and water contamination in the natural environment by probing both solution and solid chemistry of natural materials. He received his Ph.D. in earth science from Dartmouth College.
  • Tribal history – Cody Two Bears, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Councilman and tribal member who represents the Cannon Ball district of the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota.
  • Law – Eric Reed (Choctaw Nation), J.D., is a Dallas lawyer who specializes in American Indian law, tribal law and international indigenous rights. Reed received a B.S in economics and finance and a B.A. in anthropology from SMU and his J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law.
  • Mechanical – Tayeb “Ty” Benchaita is a managing partner of B&G Products and Services LLP, a consulting company in Houston that specializes in products quality control and assurance, products manufacturing and operations for the oil, fuels petrochemical, oil refining, lubricants, re-refining, and environmental industries. He holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and executive management training from the Harvard Business School.
  • Public policy – Michael Lawson is president of MLL Consulting which provides historical research and analysis for government agencies, Native American tribes, law firms and other private clients. Additionally, he is of counsel to Morgan, Angel & Associates, L.L.C. in Washington, D.C., where he formerly served as a partner. Lawson received his Ph.D. in American history and cultural anthropology from the University of New Mexico and is author of Dammed Indians Revisited: The Continuing History of the Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux (South Dakota State Historical Society: 2010).

The event is cosponsored by SMU’s William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies and Maguire Energy Institute, with support from the University’s Dedman College of Humanities and  Sciences, Cox School of Business, William P. Clements Department of History, Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute through the Scott-Hawkins Fund, and Center for Presidential History.

Three SMU history scholars receive 2013-14 book prizes

Three SMU history scholars recently won prestigious awards for books honed during their time at the University.

“These recognitions confirm that the Clements Department of History – through its graduate program and research institute ­– continues to lead the way in producing first-rate scholarship on Texas, the American Southwest, and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands,” says Andrew Graybill, associate professor and director of SMU’s William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies.

Raul CoronadoRaúl Coronado’s book A World Not to Come: A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture (Harvard University Press, 2013) won the Texas State Historical Association’s Kate Broocks Bates Award for Best Historical Research and second prize from the Texas Institute of Letters’ Ramirez Prize for Best Scholarly Book. Coronado completed his Ph.D. in modern thought and literature in 2004 at Stanford University. He was a William P. Clements Fellow in 2009-10 and is associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of California-Berkeley.

Jason MellardJason Mellard’s Progressive Country: How the 1970s Transformed the Texan in Popular Culture (University of Texas Press, 2013) won the Texas State Historical Association’s 2013 Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize for Best Book on Texas History. He completed his Ph.D. in American studies at the University of Texas-Austin in 2009 and was a 2010-11 Clements Fellow. He is currently the assistant director at the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Alicia DeweyPh.D. graduate Alicia Dewey won the Robert A. Calvert Book Prize for the best manuscript on the history of the American South, West or Southwest submitted in 2013 to Texas A&M University Press. Her book, Pesos and Dollars: Entrepreneurs in the Texas-Mexico Borderlands, 1880-1940, is scheduled for publication in summer 2014. Dewey earned her Ph.D in history at SMU in 2007 and is currently an associate professor of history at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

Established in fall 1996, the Clements Center in SMU’s Dedman College is internationally known as an incubator for research and writing and an organizer of public programming, all related to the American Southwest.

The center annually provides post-doctoral fellowships for scholars studying the American Southwest and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, allowing them to focus on additional research and to further develop manuscripts, leading to publication by prestigious presses in cooperation with the Center.

Fellowships to emerging and senior scholars have resulted in 38 books published by 17 major university presses. Nine more Clements Center Fellows have publications forthcoming.

Written by Devean Owens ’14

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