Public Program- Patricia Nelson Limerick

Lectures and Performances
Thursday, October 25, 2012 - 7:00pm to Friday, October 26, 2012 - 6:45pm

"'Those Who Labor in the Archives Are the Chosen People of God, If Ever He Had a Chosen People': Or, How The Legacy of Conquest Could Have Been a Better Book If Its Author Had Spent a Season at the American Antiquarian Society"
By Patricia Nelson Limerick

The Ninth Annual Robert C. Baron Lecture

The Robert C. Baron Lecture, named after the past AAS chair and president of Fulcrum Publishing in Denver, invites a distinguished AAS member who has written a seminal work of history to reflect on one book and its impact on scholarship and society since its publication. Patricia Nelson Limerick will be exploring the ways in which her book, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West, would have been improved by spending time in the AAS archives.

The Legacy of Conquest, published in 1987, was a groundbreaking book in scholarship on the West. One of the central texts of what came to be known as the “New Western History,” Legacy of Conquest represented a key moment in the ongoing revision of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis, which dominated Western history writing for much of the twentieth century. Instead of Turner's emphasis on the impact of the process of "westering" on white settlers from the East who moved West, Limerick's work charted a course that took more seriously the role of the physical environment of the West in shaping the region and its history. The Legacy of Conquest demonstrated, in lively and compelling prose, how the environmental characteristics of the West combined with the ongoing dynamic of Anglo conquest of Native Americans to define the history of the trans-Mississippi West.

Now, twenty-five years later, Limerick shares the instructive and amusing journeys that her book undertook, reflecting on the “substantial and genuine virtue” that Legacy would have gained from time spent in Worcester. With the substitution of one noun, the title of this talk takes Thomas Jefferson’s famous tribute to yeoman farmers and turns it into a tribute to yeoman historians who spend their time with documents and manuscripts. As a “big picture” historian, Limerick has said she feels indebted to the labors of those who explore and manage archives. Had Limerick explored AAS’s collections relating to the West, she would have found an exceptional array of items, thanks to the generosity of two donors: Donald McKay Frost and Thomas W. Streeter. Donations from these collectors – given between the late 1940s and 1960s – included broadsides, newspapers, eighty-six watercolor and pencil sketches created by British artist Henry James Warre in 1845, railroad and canal material, printed Indian treaties, and thousands of other volumes.

Patricia Limerick is the faculty director and chair of the board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. She has dedicated her career to bridging the gap between academics and the general public and to demonstrating the benefits of applying historical perspective to contemporary dilemmas and conflicts. Her other books include Desert Passages (1985) and Something in the Soil (2000). She has received a number of awards and honors recognizing the impact of her scholarship and her commitment to teaching, including the MacArthur Fellowship (1995 to 2000) and the Hazel Barnes Prize, the University of Colorado’s highest award for teaching and research (2001). She regularly contributes essays to op-ed pages of local and national newspapers, and in the summer of 2005 she served as a guest columnist for the New York Times.

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