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

SMU books: Great holiday reads for 2016

Still shopping for the holidays? Complete your gift list with books published in 2016 by the SMU community, including faculty, staff members, trustees, alumni, libraries and museum.

From history to art to science to the Southwest, this year’s compilation by SMU News’ Cherri Gann has selections to please readers of poetry, personal and spiritual enrichment, young adult fiction and celebrity memoir. There’s a southern-themed cookbook for foodies, an uproarious card game based on the language of the Bard, and an arty crime caper filled with mystery and intrigue.

Some selections are available at the SMU bookstore, but all are available via online booksellers unless otherwise noted. Authors are listed alphabetically.

> Find the full list at SMU News

‘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.

Andrew J. Torget’s history of cotton, slavery and the Texas Revolution wins 2015 Weber-Clements Book Prize

'Seeds of Empire' coverSMU’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies will present its annual Weber-Clements Book Prize to historian Andrew J. Torget for Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Torget will be honored Tuesday, Sept. 27 at a 5:30 p.m. reception, followed by a 6 p.m. lecture and book-signing in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To register, call 214-768-3684 or visit the Clements Center website.

In addition, Torget will discuss his work on KERA 90.1’s “Think with Krys Boyd” during the noon-1 p.m. hour on Thursday, Sept. 22. Listen live. audio or podcast

The David J. Weber-William P. Clements Prize for the Best Non-Fiction Book on Southwestern America honors both the Center’s founding director and founding benefactor. The $2,500 prize, administered by the Western History Association, is given for fine writing and original research on the American Southwest and is open to any nonfiction book, including biography, on any aspect of Southwestern life, past or present.

Andrew J. Torget, 2015 Weber-Clements Book Prize winner

Andrew J. Torget, SMU’s 2015 Weber-Clements Book Prize winner. Photo credit: Jun Ma/UNT

Torget, associate professor of history at the University of North Texas and the Clements Center’s inaugural David J. Weber Fellow, has won nine major book awards for Seeds of Empire, including the Weber-Clements Prize. The book explores the roles cotton and slavery played in fomenting the Texas Revolution, which was in part a reaction against abolitionists in the Mexican government, and in shaping Texas’ borderlands into the first fully-committed slaveholders’ republic in North America.

In selecting the book from a large field of entries, judges wrote: “Torget’s deep archival work brings a fresh perspective to the conflicts over slavery in Texas on the eve of the Civil War. The book’s most notable accomplishment is the emphasis on cotton and slavery as a world-wide system that bound Texas history to larger economic and political forces in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. He challenges the traditional interpretation that the westward movement in the early nineteenth century was primarily motivated by ideologies of racial supremacy that characterized Manifest Destiny. Instead, Torget demonstrates that, although westering Americans felt superior to the people whose lands they invaded, they mainly migrated to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the trans-Atlantic cotton economy that the Mexican government had established by offering them free land.”

Finalists for the Weber-Clements Book Prize included Emily Lutenski for West of Harlem: African American Writers and the Borderlands; and former Clements Fellow John Weber for From South Texas to the Nation: The Exploitation of Mexican Labor in the Twentieth Century.

Calendar Highlights: Mustang Must-do’s for Feb. 12, 2016

Free Valentine’s Day Piano Duo Concert: Internationally acclaimed pianists and SMU alumni Liudmila Georgievskaya and Thomas Schwan will give a two-piano recital, featuring works of Mozart and Otto Singer’s rarely performed and brilliant transcription of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. The concert is Sunday, Feb. 14 beginning at 7:30 in Caruth Auditorium.

TEDxSMU Live 2016: Beginning Feb. 15 and running through Feb. 19, TEDxSMU will host live simulcast talks of the TED 2016 conference. Free and open to the  SMU community, you are invited for one talk, one session or the whole week! Viewing will be held in 253 Caruth Hall on the SMU campus.

> See a complete list of speakers, times and events here

WaltScreen Shot 2016-02-12 at 12.51.13 PMer Horne’s “Triple Execution” Postcards: Death on the Border: Using photographer Walter Horne’s “Triple Execution” images of the Mexican Revolution, Claudia Zapata, SMU Ph.D. candidate in Rhetorics of Art, Space and Culture, examines the pattern that Horne used to portray the role of Mexico and Mexican identity in the picture postcard format. The event is sponsored by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies and will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at noon in McCord Auditorium.

Tower Center Monthly Seminar: On Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 11 a.m., James C. Garand, the Emogene Pliner Distinguished Professor and R. Downs Poindexter Professor of Political Science at Louisiana State University, will speak on “Is it Documentation, or is it Immigration? Exploring the Effects of Attitudes Toward Documented and Undocumented Immigrants on Immigration Policy Attitudes.” Garand will examine the effects of attitudes toward documented and undocumented immigrants on immigration policy attitudes. The event will be held in the Tower Center Boardroom, 227 Carr Collins Hall. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Please RSVP to tower@smu.edu.

The Life and Times of George McGovern: The Rise of a Prairie Statesman, The Life and Times of George McGovern is the first major biography of the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate who became America’s most eloquent and prescient critic of the Vietnam War. In it, Thomas Knock, SMU Associate Professor and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor in the William P. Clements Department of History, traces McGovern’s life from his rustic boyhood in a South Dakota prairie town during the Depression to his rise to the pinnacle of politics at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago as police and antiwar demonstrators clashed in the city’s streets. The book will be available for purchase and signing after the event.

The event, sponsored by the Center for Presidential History, will be on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. in McCord Auditorium and is free and open to the public. Registration is required, and seating is not guaranteed. For more information visit SMU.EDU/CPH.

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