Top Young Historians: 38 – David M. Wrobel

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

38: David M. Wrobel, 12-18-06

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Professor of History, University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Area of Research: U.S. West, American Thought and Culture, Late Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century U.S., Historiography.
Education: Ph.D., American Intellectual History, Ohio University, June 1991.
Major Publications: He is the author of Promised Lands: Promotion, Memory and the Creation of the American West (2002) (a finalist for the Spur
David M. WrobelAward for Contemporary Western Non-Fiction), The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal (1993), along with numerous articles and essays. He is the co-editor of Seeing and Being Seen: Tourism in the American West (2001); and Many Wests: Place, Culture, and Regional Identity (1997); and editor of a Special Issue of The Historian, “;The West Enters the Twenty-First Century: Appraisals on the State of the Field” (Fall 2004).” He is currently working on two book projects Global West, American Frontier: Travelers’ Accounts, 1840-2000 (Calvin Horn Book Series, University of New Mexico Press; manuscript to be submitted in summer 2007), and The Rebirth of American Exceptionalism: The Cold War, the West, and the Frontier Revival (sequel to The End of American Exceptionalism). Also Wrobel is working on a an edited book project Friedrich Gerstäcker’s West: A German Traveler on the Nineteenth-Century American Frontier (for Arthur H. Clark Company and University of Oklahoma Press).
Awards: Wrobel is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including:
Senior Research Fellow in Western History, Beinecke Library and Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders, Yale University, academic year 2005-2006;
Calvin Horn Lecturer in American Western History and Culture, University of New Mexico, November 2003;
Promised Lands, Promotion, Memory, and the Creation of the American West (2003 Finalist, Spur Award for Contemporary Non-Fiction, Western Writers of America);
Andrew Mellon Fellow, Huntington Library, Summer 2003;
Los Angeles Corral of Westerners’ Fellow, Huntington Library, Summer 2001;
Visiting Scholar, Center of the American West, University of Colorado, Boulder, 1999;
Lindbach Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence, Widener University, 1998;
Cailhouette Fellow, Huntington Library, Summer 1997;
Newberry Library Fellow, Summer 1996;
American Philosophical Society Fellow, Summer 1994;
Baccalaureate Speaker, Hartwick College, May 1994 (chosen by student body);
Mayer Fund Fellow, Huntington Library, Summer 1993;
Haynes Fellow, Huntington Library, Summer 1990.
Additional Info:
Formerly Associate Professor of History (1998-2000); Chair (Fall 1997-Fall 99); Assistant Professor (1994-98), Widener University, Visiting Assistant Professor of History, Hartwick College (1992-94), and Visiting Assistant Professor of History, College of Wooster (1991-92) and Visiting Instructor (1990-91).
Wrobel is the incoming Vice President (beginning 2007) and President Elect (2008) of the American Historical Association’s Pacific Coast Branch, and is currently Chair of the Western History Association’s (WHA) Membership Committee. He has also served as President of Phi Alpha Theta, the National History Honor Society (2004-2006), as a member of the Editorial Board of the Pacific Historical Review, and on various other professional nominating, program, book, article, and fellowship prize committees.
A dedicated promoter of partnerships between the academy and the schools, David Wrobel served as Co-Director of an NEH Institute for teachers on the West sponsored by the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado at Boulder (2001); he has been a faculty coordinator and core member for the Center’s Teaching American History (TAH) partnership with the Jefferson County, Colorado public schools since 2001; he co-directed a TAH summer institute on the West in Washoe County, Nevada (2003); and he has participated in the Clark County TAH institute (2005) and the NEH institute on the West for teachers in Laramie, Wyoming (2006).

Personal Anecdote

Since graduate school I’ve taught a wide range of courses including: Early American Thought, Modern American Thought, American thought and Culture in the 1920s and 1930s, and American Thought and Culture in the 1950s and 1960s, several courses on western American history and historiography, period courses on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, US: 1920-1945, and Recent America, historical methodology for undergraduates, the US history survey, and even Colonial and Modern Latin America. I’ve also taught at a wide range of institutions: as a Visiting Assistant Professor at The College of Wooster in Ohio and at Hartwick College in upstate New York, in a tenure-track position at Widener University, and currently at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where I am a Professor in the History Department. I’ve also served as a Visiting Scholar at the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, Boulder (1999), and as Senior Research Fellow in Western American History at the Beinecke Library and Howard Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders at Yale University (2005-2006).

The experience of offering a broad array of classes and spending time at very different academic institutions has proven invaluable. The one piece of advice I would offer to young historians in their first academic positions is to pay close attention to the listing of courses. In my second semester at The College of Wooster, back in 1991, I offered a course titled “The American West: Myth and Reality,” which was mis-titled in the Student Course Catalog as “The American West: Myth and Realty.” A single letter can make a real difference. A good number of business and economics majors signed up for the course and were quite disappointed to learn that the course had little to do with real estate values in the West. I suppose there’s some irony in the fact that my second monograph, Promised Lands: Promotion, Memory, and the Creation of the American West (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002), does actually deal quite extensively with methods of land promotion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Here’s a snippet from Promised Lands that illuminates my efforts to present western promoters and pioneer reminiscers in a more nuanced fashion than has generally been the case:

“The two genres [promotion and reminiscence] could be dismissed as, respectively, Promised Lands Promotion, Memory, and the Creation of the American West JPGthe lies of unscrupulous salesmen (there were few female booster writers) and the improbable recollections of aging frontiersmen and women—the tale tales of nearly dead white males and females. The promoters could be regarded as the used car dealers of an earlier age, the reminiscers as the unreliable fisherman chroniclers of yesteryear whose fish grow ever larger as time recedes and their stories are retold….But it is important to treat these sources as reflections of the purpose of their creators rather than as accurate descriptions of past places and events….[T]he issue here… is their centrality to the processes by which popular perceptions of the West were constructed, elaborated, disseminated, and sustained.”

I guess I too have become something of a promoter — of historical organizations. My service to the history profession includes a term as President of Phi Alpha Theta, National History Honor Society, Inc. (2004-2006); I am currently Vice-President and President-Elect of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association; and I have just been elected to serve a 3-year term on the Council of the Western History Association, an organization that I also serve in the capacity of Chair of the Membership Committee. I’ve also served on numerous book, article, and fellowship prize committees, and on the Editorial Board of the Pacific Historical Review. These historical organizations that are so vital to the health of the profession are also quite easy to take for granted, and so I would urge young historians to seek service in the organizations in which they are members.

My promotional endeavors also extend to the arena of teacher partnerships. I’m quite heavily involved in building partnerships between college and university teachers and K-12 teachers through NEH and TAH-funded programs. The question I find myself asking again and again is: “Will these partnerships still exist if the TAH funding dries up?” My hope, of course, is that we are building the foundations for healthy long-term collaborative efforts with the school districts that surround our colleges and universities. We are developing Master of Arts in Teaching History programs, conducting summer workshops and institutes, and generally developing a better sense of how we can help K-12 teachers and learn from them.

I’m currently looking forward to my courses on the “Progressive Era” and “Regionalism and the American West” this spring, to my work this summer with the TAH grant in Jefferson County, Colorado (a partnership between the school district and the Center of the American West), to finishing my current book project, “Global West, American Frontier: Travelers’ Accounts, 1840-2000,” and to beginning my new book project, “The Rebirth of American Exceptionalism: The Cold War, the West, and the Frontier Revival” (a sequel of sorts to my first book, The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993).

Quotes

By David M. Wrobel

  • “The great drama of the West became just the first of many stories of national exceptionalism that have sprung up because the nation needed them, and they have proven hard to purge from the national consciousness for the very same reason. We should include among these stories that of the Progressive era as an age of purely altruistically motivated reform, the absolute antithesis of (and corrective to) the Gilded Age; the story of the 1920s as a happy, colorful, carefree interlude; the Great Depression as a triumph of American cooperation, compassion, and perseverance; World War II as “the Good War,” with a wonderfully unified home-front; and the Civil Rights Movement as a great redemptive moment, a triumph of integration marked by a healthy national recognition of the country’s shortcomings in the arena of race. All of these memorable episodes were far messier, their contours less clearly, less dualistically defined, than the national collective memory has imagined. None of them were quite the great morality plays and triumphs of America’s better angels that the nation has remembered them to have been. Within the space of about thirty years, each of these purposeful interpretations of the past came to be questioned by professional historians; but like the story of the West and American exceptionalism, all continue largely intact in the broader public consciousness, despite the weight of scholarly reservations.” — David M. Wrobel, Phi Alpha Theta (National History Honor Society) Presidential Address, “Exceptionalism and Globalism: Travel Writers and the Nineteenth-Century American West,” published in “The Historian,” Vol. 68 (Fall 2006): 431-460, delivered at the Biennial Meeting, January 5, 2006.

About David M. Wrobel

  • “A pathbreaking work that enlarges Wrobel’s strong reputation as a superb cultural historian of the American West.” — Richard W. Etulain, author of “Reimagining the Modern American West” reviewing “Promised Lands: Promotion, Memory, and the Creation of the American West”
  • “Original and significant. While it can be considered part of the myth-busting genre, and thus owes an intellectual debt to Limerick’s Legacy of Conquest, among other books, Wrobel’s stands by itself and should appeal to anyone interested in Western history and literature, as well as to a broader audience beyond that. — Walter Nugent, author of “Into the West: The Story of Its People” reviewing “Promised Lands: Promotion, Memory, and the Creation of the American West”
  • “A superb book and terrific reminder that the American West is at once region and many regions, and that it is made up of places imagined, real, remembered, and misremembered—-all of them historically important.” — William Deverell, coeditor of “Metropolis in the Making” reviewing “Promised Lands: Promotion, Memory, and the Creation of the American West”
  • “Wrobel reaches his main goal, to present the very rich literature of boosters and reminiscers, its purposes, and its influence on historical and present perceptions of the West. Promised Lands makes a strong contribution to our knowledge of American western culture. Reading Wrobel’s book was, for me, like a trip to the world of western fairytales and legends, with the conscious thought in mind that at the same time these tales can serve as primary sources for the research on American western identity and can bring us closer to its understanding.” — Justyna Bartkiewicz, George Washington University reviewing “Promised Lands: Promotion, Memory, and the Creation of the American West” in “American Studies International”
  • “I do not know of anyone who has brought together so much material on the popular foreboding over the frontier’s demise. Wrobel uses articles and commentaries from periodicals in the 1870s and 1880s to show both an awareness of the frontier’s significance to a distinctive national character and an uneasiness that this molding influence was about to end. Unlike a lot of writing in intellectual history, his style is accessible to the general reader as well as the specialist.” — Elliott West, author of “Growing Up with the Country: Childhood on the Far-Western Frontier” reviewing “The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal”
  • “A lucid and rewarding synthesis of cultural and western history.” — Richard W. Etulain, author of “Writing Western History” reviewing “The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal”
  • “A superb and original analysis, rich in interdisciplinary detail.” — Wilbur R. Jacobs, author of “On Turner’s Trail” reviewing “The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal”
  • “An excellent book on a big subject, executed with much skill.” — “Western Historical Quarterly” reviewing “The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal”
  • “One of the most important books of recent years in the history of American ideas.” — “Journal of Arizona History” reviewing “The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal”
  • “An indispensable analysis of an essential part of the national psyche.” — “American Studies” reviewing “The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal”
  • “Wrobel writes with clarity and richness and uses abundant examples.” — “Great Plains Quarterly” reviewing “The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal”
  • “A stimulating and valuable contribution to American intellectual history and to the history of the American West as well.” — “Nebraska History” reviewing “The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal”
  • “A landmark in the debate over the significance of the frontier in American history.” — “Kansas History” reviewing “The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal”
  • “Very smart, interesting professor. Great sense of humor. Loved his jokes about the not-so-great French.”… “Excellent instructor, nice guy. Also very funny w/ dry British humor. Dr Wrobel made this class very intersting and fun.”… “Good class, great instructor. Dr Wrobel is funny as hell.” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Sunday, December 17, 2006 at 7:39 PM

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