Monday, February 10, 2014

Mission Accomplished. (Which was not the original mission but that's okay.)

The funny thing about academia is you never know how your work is going to be used.  You write stuff, you hope other people read it, and it takes on a life of it's own.  I didn't sit down one day and say "Hey, I know, I'll write a dissertation that will one day be used to save a sacred mountain!"  What actually happened was I heard a job talk on the California Gold Rush, and a couple of nights later, I woke up in the middle of the night and said to myself:  "I wonder if anybody has written on uranium mining in New Mexico?  Because I could that."  And they hadn't.  So I started working on it.  And eventually I limped to the finish line with a dissertation that was only sorta kinda about uranium mining, but had a lot of other stuff in it in a bunch of chapters that were only kinda sorta loosely connected.  (True story:  I once had lunch with another grad student who was working on oil development on the Navajo rez.  I was outlining the chapters for her, one on stories of uranium discovery, one on the cross-racial miner community, one on landscape, and one on the kidnapping of the mayor of Gallup and she asked:  "when do you talk about the actual mining?"  Er.  Not so much). 

Anyway, I had washed out of academia and been teaching high school for a couple of years, when Estevan Rael y Galvez, State Historian of New Mexico (and former grad school colleague) e-mails me out of the blue.  "Didn't you write a dissertation on Mt. Taylor?" he asked.  Well, sorta kinda, there's one chapter that's about how Mt. Taylor is perceived differently by different people (aka:  "Making and Re-Making Place in the Grants-Gallup Area") and how perception of the mountain is tied to ethnic identity and vice-versa.  "Great," said Estevan.  "I'm putting together a friend of the court brief and we could really use your work."  So I sent it along.  And they filed the brief.  And six years later, it looks like we won.  See here

So we won.  And I helped.  And I didn't even know I was going to.  Which is kinda cool.  But you know what's cooler?  All academic work is like this.  You don't learn stuff thinking:  "I know when I'm going to use this later!"  You learn stuff because:  "I don't know when I'm going to use it later, but you never know, I might."  And eventually you do.  Maybe not directly.  Maybe not all the time.  But eventually.  Trust me.

Plus, if anybody knows how to diacritical marks in blogger.  I'd love to know.  Because I'm butchering Estevan's name without them.

Update:  Wow, twitter traffic drove this to be my most trafficked day in history.  Thanks to all the tweeps.  Also, I want to be clear that I had very little to do with winning the court case.  Estevan and a virtual army of tribal lawyers, elders, advocates, paralegals, and activists are the real heroes here. 


  1. How cool! Many congratulations to your contribution to a good cause, David!

  2. Congratulations also! As you know, my sympathies are with strip-mining all parts of America between the Hudson River and San Francisco Bay, but I am glad your work has fruit.

    Did you use Tom Lehrer's "Wild West" for your dissertation chapter titles?

  3. Thanks, folks. @Withy. Hah! I wrote a seminar paper on constructions of South and West for Mills Thornton that started with Wild West and Dixie! Love me some Tom Lehrer.