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William Deverell is Professor of History at the University of Southern California and Director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. He received his undergraduate degree in American Studies from Stanford, where was mentored by Albert Camarillo, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton, where he was a student of James M. McPherson. Prior to coming to USC in 2004, Deverell taught at Caltech and the University of California, San Diego. His teaching has ranged across western and U.S. history, including classes in western environmental history; California history; the history of Los Angeles; the Civil War; and the history of American childhood. He has held residential fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, The Getty, and the Beinecke Library.

Throughout his career, he has published books and articles on western and California history. He is the author of Railroad Crossing: Californians and the Railroad, 1850-1910; Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past; and Kathy Fiscus: A Tragedy That Transfixed the Nation. As a co-author or co-editor, he has been fortunate to work with David Igler, Greg Hise, Darryl Holter, Tom Sitton, and Anne Hyde. Current work includes team-based projects on western wildfire and the history of Los Angeles Chinatown. A decade ago, he co-founded the Los Angeles Service Academy, a program that introduces high school students to the infrastructural workings of metropolitan Los Angeles.

Raised in Colorado, Professor Deverell spends chunks of any given year in the Rockies, either in his home state or in northern Wyoming. “Although I went to college expecting to become a surgeon,” he writes, “I quickly discovered my life’s work. I credit that to growing up in a household filled with books and to the cadre of brilliant and kind scholars who taught me.” Deverell especially enjoys teaching graduate students. “As a graduate student mentor and teacher,” he writes, “I work hard to listen to my students, to encourage their creativity and their voices, and to be accessible and responsive. Teaching graduate students has been fundamental to my work as a scholar, and I have loved it.”

“I am thrilled almost beyond words by my selection as President-Elect of an organization I cherish,” he writes. “I cut my teeth at the WHA as a graduate student, I gave my first paper there, and I have made life-long friends through the organization.” Professor Deverell has served the WHA in many ways: program committee co-chair, editorial board member for the journal, council member, prize committee member, and others. “I am deeply committed to the ways in which the WHA has embraced change in recent years,” he writes. “It is exciting to see the evolution first-hand and to think about how our work together as students of the West builds community within and beyond the academy. I would not have my career without mentors, without people whose empathy and devotion to ideas inspired me. It is important to me to try to reciprocate that."


Restorations and Repairs: Lives and Landscapes Across Many Wests

To remain in touch with the past requires a constant imaginative effort.

--Gaston Bachelard

The program committee for the 2023 meeting of the Western History Association welcomes session and individual paper proposals that imagine the western past in conversation with the conference theme, Restorations and Repairs: Lives and Landscapes Across Many Wests. We join in collective assessment of the many ways in which historical engagement empowers us to reckon with, restore, and repair human relationships and landscapes alike. We embrace the obligation that contemplative consideration of the past is urgent in our broken world, and we accept the challenges of keeping at our work.

We will gather in downtown Los Angeles in October of 2023. Despite myriad and thorny challenges – as difficult as any across the globe – Los Angeles remains a place open to individual and community reinvention and innovation. Much of this energy is aimed at the future: how will this place, for example, embrace more sustainable patterns of environmental impact as climate change and drought deepen? How will Los Angeles, California, and the greater Wests of North America reckon with systemic racial injustice and right past wrongs through reparative action? How can we–as practitioners, educators, and activists–harness our expertise, and our access to circuits of knowledge and power, so that we can collaborate with stakeholders to reconsider the past in order to reimagine the future? 

Reckoning can be retrospective, and this vantage might suggest hope. This region is more willing than it once was to grapple with histories inflected with pain.  In neighborhoods, along streets, in parks and playgrounds – all across the vast public spaces of this fascinating metropolis – Angelenos are engaged in re-imagining the many pasts of place. We see the same thing happening all over the West.  This is work every bit as fraught as it is exhilarating, and thus it should be with our fervent encounters with the history of the American West. Our work as historians is, as it has always been, multi-layered as to approach and application. We find conventional and unconventional ways to connect and converse with our audiences: through academic pathways; through pedagogy; through public outreach and dialogue; and through public encounters of all kinds.

Our colleague, historian Donald Worster, writes of “how much has been lost in our short years as a nation.” Loss, pain, degradation of landscape, death born of violence, neglect, and racial conquest: our West is laid atop material and spiritual grief. Yet, all across the West, reckoning with loss has within it suggestions of hope, if not redemption. Commemorative acts and memorialization movements – all of them a long time coming – remind us of the fundamental importance of our collective historical work. 

Join us in October; join us in Los Angeles. Offer your ideas about the history of the West and the reckonings with time and place that are so foundational to the work we all do.  We encourage proposals that engage with themes of restoration, repair, even redemption – either as they play out in our midst or as we insist that they get underway. We will come together in a place that encourages and nurtures imagination and innovation; please feel encouraged to propose your work (and the format for relaying it to your audience) in the same spirit. We come together in a place working hard to acknowledge the enduring and fundamental meaning and power of history. Please help by contributing your work and your ideas to this unending project. 

Western History Association

University of Kansas | History Department

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Lawrence, KS 66045 | 785-864-0860 

The WHA is located in the Department of History at the University of Kansas. The WHA is grateful to KU's History Department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for their generous support!