". . .What we have loved
Others will love, and we will show them how."

                                              William Wordsworth


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Essential Questions for the Conference

What might we restore?

How do we cross to safety?

What should we refuse to part with?

What should we let go?

I could give all to Time except - except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There
And what I would not part with I have kept.
                  "I Could Give All to Time," Robert Frost

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 12/13 at 05:51 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Nature deficit disorder

Richard Louv argues in Last Child in the Woods that over the last few decades children have become increasingly separated from nature and this has left them without powerful experiences of natural beauty and spiritual energy. You can listen to an NPR interview with him.

He defines “nature deficit disorder” as “the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and a higher rate of physical and emotional illnesses.” He quotes Paul Gorman, founder and director of the National Partnership for the Environment: “The extent that we separate our children from creation is the extent to which we separate them from the creator—from God.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 01/12 at 05:37 AM
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© 2006 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Gift of Stories

Alcestis “Cooky” Oberg has an article about life stories as priceless gifts in USA Today. She makes a point that heritage teachers encounter over and over again--when students encounter stories from their families and communities, they also learn important lessons about how to live that aren’t easy to teach into today’s diverse and divided schools. She notes that the story her godfather gave to his grandson is full of important understandings:

His grandson is not going to find on television the tale of becoming the man of the family at 16 years old either, as my godfather did. He financially supported his mother and sister after his father died during the Depression, while putting himself through Northwestern University on athletic scholarships and odd jobs. He kept 50 cents in his pocket for emergencies and sent everything else home. Self-sacrifice and responsibility for others are not part of the manly role model that is taught in movie chase scenes and shoot-’em-ups, or by celebrity misbehavers and cheaters.

It’s the truth of the stories told that make them so important:

Our kids need to know real things about life besides the lame fantasies they get on television: the life we lived, the good and bad choices we made, the lessons we learned, what we’d do if we had it to do over again. In short, whether role model or cautionary tale, the real story of our lives is the best thing we can give kids because it’s true, and they’ll learn from it.

Oberg suggests that adults begin writing their stories as gifts to younger family members:

Whether housewife or doctor, truck driver or engineer, lawyer or lineman, we all have stories to tell — great stories. Perhaps we could write, record, or videotape these stories for our youngsters in installments over the years — something for them to look forward to during the holidays. They hardly know us or know what’s important in life anymore, amid today’s noise and clutter.

We will better understand education’s historic role as the means through which succeeding and overlapping generations find what they most need in each other--the young need wisdom and the old need acts of regeneration--as this simple idea is recognized to be as profound as it really is.

Here are a couple examples of what’s possible: http://www.montanaheritageproject.org/index.php/home/more/my-omas-story/ and http://www.montanaheritageproject.org/index.php/home/more/songs-of-hope-music-in-libby-montana-during-the-great-depression/.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 12/20 at 02:35 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Every Moment, You’re Writing

I’ve downloaded a copy of Frank McCourt’s new book, Teacher Man, from audible.com and I’m looking forward to listening to it. This quote from Contra Costa Times increases my anticipation:

“Every moment of your life, you’re writing. When you walk the halls in this school you meet various people and you write furiously in your head.” Frank McCourt “Teacher Man”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 12/17 at 05:44 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Montana Style--according to Montana Jones

Is there such a thing as a “Montana” style? Montana Jones thinks so, and it has something to do with self-sufficiency. This is exemplified by the number of people who hunt for meat, but it’s not limited to that:

I see self sufficiency everywhere I look around here. I see it in the business people I deal with. I see it in the recreation enthusiasts. I see it in the Missoula hippies and the city dwellers. Not everyone is bagging their own meat, but they are watching out for themselves in their own way.

Full article: http://montanajones.blogspot.com/2005/12/montana-style-part-one-hunting-season.html

Self-sufficiency is a near-universal trait of rural people. What’s the alternative? Do our kids recognize and appreciate this trait in those around them?

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 12/14 at 08:35 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Teaching and a Sense of Place

Originally published by Cultural Arts Resources for Teachers and Students - CARTS

"What is a ‘Place’?" Is that strip of grass between the lanes on the interstate highway a place? Is an internet website a place? Is McDonalds a place? What about the Little Big Horn Battlefield? Chief Charlo’s grave? The camping spot on Lolo Creek that Lewis and Clark  called Travelers’ Rest? Your favorite summer swimming hole? Some "places" are really no place. That is, we pass them without seeing them. When we are there they have no meaning for us. We don’t remember them when we are gone.

Student from Libby High School in northwest Montana makes field notes at Kootenai Falls for an essay of place.

But other places are part of the landscapes in our minds. When we think of important events, times full of life, we see in our minds the places where they occurred, which are inseparable from what happened. When we are homesick, we remember them.

Other places are storied with public events of national significance: Gettysburg, Wounded Knee, Pearl Harbor. Visitors flock to them every year, hungry for reality.

Teachers who draw on the power of place in our lives quite literally "place" the abstract and conceptual understandings of traditional curricula in local realities. Many researchers have shown that young people have little real understanding of the decontextualized information that flows over them in conventional teaching, and without such understanding they are often unable to transfer their learning to the world beyond the classroom window.

Besides, place-based teaching is more fun and more engaging for students as well as for teachers, parents, and other community members.

I’ve followed students into the field to document the occupational culture of Montana ranching and logging families for community web sites.

I’ve gone with teams of students from a geography class to gather data from an abandoned cemetery they discovered in the woods, where the first fur trader in the area is buried with his Indian family, near a vanished fort.

I’ve watched a team of English students locate Lewis and Clark campsites after weeks of research using journals and GIS software, so they could document the present, comparing the flora and fauna with the 1804 journals.

I’ve helped art students complete a community calendar featuring drawings inspired by research into local stories.

I’ve attended plays put on by high school drama classes based on oral histories collected from local elders.

I’ve camped with a class of history students at an abandoned gold mining town where they were completing a field archeology project so they could write the history of a place that had been all but forgotten.

When we talk about teaching and a sense of place, we are simply talking about the best teaching--teaching for deep understanding, teaching that transfers to new settings. A simple hunger for reality motivates current thinking about a sense of place, a hunger for meanings that satisfy like the snap of an apple bitten into on a cool October morning, the juice wet and cold and sweet. Real sky. Real stars. Real history. Real stories. Real friendships.

More and more teachers now accompany students to neighborhoods, streams and rivers, forests, community meetings or markets, local celebrations, and historic sites to study, document, and understand the world. They enter the community as hunters and gatherers, ethnographers, scientists, historians, problem-solvers, artists and, most important of all, as fellow community members.

Our youth have been gone so long, off in those huge schools on the edge of town, that when they re-enter the community, they cause something of a commotion. They wake people up. Both young and old have suffered from the loss of perspective that results when they are separated from each other.

Place-based teaching is not only the key to school reform but also to community revitalization. A person or a town whose music comes pre-recorded, whose textbooks are written by distant committees, whose food materializes through unknown processes, whose conversation is drowned out by broadcast chatter, whose politics consists of filling out multiple-choice forms, and whose education is planned by bickering factions is living in a fantasy if it imagines itself free.

It would be good if every student could have at least one class each term that dealt directly and intensively with local knowledge or local issues. And if every class could include at least one unit that focused on the making the places students inhabit better, helping them make personal connections to stories larger than themselves, seeing the ways individuals are intertwined with communities and communities with states and with nations, all sorts of problems we now face would begin to dissolve.

We would sense hopeful answers to many pressing questions: How can we involve our youth in serving others? How can we smooth the transition from school to work by providing experiences in out-of-classroom settings? How can we give young people a sense of belonging? How can we make the curriculum relevant to contemporary concerns? How can we encourage greater parent and community involvement in the schools?

Educators who approach the curriculum through the lens of particular localities quite literally "place" information in contexts that help young people convert the curriculum from mere information into genuine knowledge.

A sense of place, after all, is a sense of orientation. It is both the beginning and the end of knowing.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 12/13 at 01:01 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Monday, December 12, 2005

Writing as a Way of Inhabiting a Place

What better way to open people up to the possibilities of learning something new than to go walk somewhere, with a notebook and a mission.

In one of the most well-known and influential rhetoric texts in the canon, Phaedrus is on his way out of the city, going for a walk “outside the walls, ” when he meets Socrates and shares his belief that his walk in the country will be “more refreshing than a stroll in the city squares”. Socrates joins Phaedrus, where they soon come to the Ilissus; Phaedrus spots a tall plane tree, and they settle there to hear and discuss the speech that Phaedrus has with him. Socrates seems so enchanted with the place and waxes so poetically about it that Phaedrus comments, “So far from being like a native, you resemble …a visitor being shown the sights by a guide. This comes of your never going abroad beyond the frontiers of Attica or even, as far as I can see, outside the actual walls of the city”. Socrates replies that he stays in the city because his love of learning, especially about human nature, keeps him among people. As he puts it, “the fields and trees won’t teach me anything. ” In this opening scene, as the translator tells the reader, Socrates is in unfamiliar territory—and such an excursion “is quite contrary to his usual habits.”

Habitually, then, Socrates hangs out in the city, and through these opening lines Plato draws attention to the role of place in conversations, persuasion, and learning. . .

As Plato knew. . .memory and place, location and argument, walking and learning, are vitally and dramatically linked in our personal histories and personal geographies. Places evoke powerful human emotions because they become layered, like sediment or a palimpsest, with histories and stories and memories. When places are inhabited in the fullest sense, they become embodied with the kinds of stories, myths, and legends that the spot beside the Ilissus holds; they can stimulate and refresh— or disturb and unnerve—their visitors.


From the introduction to Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference by Nedra Reynolds (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004)

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 12/12 at 03:27 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What is place-based learning?

Place-based learning escapes the “view from nowhere” that gives much of the traditional curriculum its abstract and lifeless tone. Teachers practicing place-based teaching look at the concepts of history, science and literature from the vantage point of particular places and times.

This doesn’t mean that place-based education should be provincial, concerning itself only with local affairs. Anyone who takes his or her individuality seriously knows that paying attention to what it means to be a particular person in a particular situation doesn’t mean being concerned only with one’s particularity, and the same is true of the communities that are the focus of place-based teachers. Good communities are very interested in how they are related to other places and how they may be studied as instantiations of patterns that also occur at other places and times.

Place-based learning invites students to reality test concepts by looking at evidence in the real world. To do so, they will need to look in the place the real world actually exists--that is, locally. As Charles Larmore puts it, “reasoning from where we find ourselves means reasoning about the way things really are.”

A cover story [no full text] about place-based education by Gregory A. Smith appeared in Phi Delta Kappa in 2002, signalling that the work of thousands of grass roots workers across the country had achieved some level of mainstream attention. Smith points out that place-based education is not new:

Jim Cummins and Dennis Sayers in Brave New Schools refer to the work of French educators in the early 20th century whose students collected and then compiled information about their own villages and sent the results to students in other parts of the country who were doing the same thing.3 In the 1970s, the Foxfire project in Georgia spurred a national movement aimed at investigating and documenting regional cultures across the country. The Foxfire magazines and then books were highly successful, linked as they were to widespread interest in rural folkways and the culture of Appalachia.

Local cultural research, according to Smith, demonstrates “that the ability to analyze and synthesize can be cultivated at least as well from materials that are directly experienced or investigated by students.” Furthermore, “teaching in this way does not require the elimination of nonlocal knowledge so much as the simple inclusion of the local.”

In addition to discussing cultural studies, Smith covers four other approaches to place-based education: nature investigations, in which students observe wildlife, conduct water-quality tests, or restore riparian areas; real-world problem-solving, in which students and teachers identify community issues and problems, study them, and propose possible solutions; internships and entrepreneurial opportunities, in which students explore local career opportunities and partner with businesses to expand their knowledge of economics and become more involved in community life; and immersion in community life through participation in decision-making activities at town meetings, chambers of commerce, city councils, or environmental agencies.

Smith concludes that policy makers at every level should give place-based education a close look:

The primary value of place-based education lies in the way that it serves to strengthen children’s connections to others and to the regions in which they live. It enhances achievement, but, more important, it helps overcome the alienation and isolation of individuals that have become hallmarks of modernity. By reconnecting rather than separating children from the world, place-based education serves both individuals and communities, helping individuals to experience the value they hold for others and allowing communities to benefit from the commitment and contributions of their members. The promise of place-based education bears careful consideration by education policy makers and practitioners, as well as by the general public. Instead of simply focusing more closely on practices that we know are ineffective for large numbers of students—an unfortunate consequence of the standards movement—place-based education has the potential to transform the very nature of schools.


Clearing Magazine has created an annotated bibliography of writings on place-based education.

Clifford E. Knapp, Professor Emeritus at Northern Illinois University, has compiled a bibliography of important works dealing with place-based teaching:

Bowers, C. A. (1995). Educating for an ecologically sustainable culture. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational Researcher, 32(4), 3-12.

Haas, T., & Nachtigal, P. (1998). “Place value: An educator’s guide to good literature on rural lifeways, environments, and purposes of education.” Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.

Nature Literacy Series. (Ed.). (1998). Stories in the land: A place-based environmental education anthology. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.

Orr, D. W. (1994). Earth in mind: On education, environment and the human prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Raffan, J. (1993). The experience of place: Exploring land as teacher. Journal of Experiential Education, 16(1), 39-45.

Smith, G. A. (2002). “Place-based education: Learning to be where we are.” Phi Delta Kappan, 83(8), 584-594.

Smith, G. A., & Williams, D. R. (Eds.). (1999). Ecological education in action: On weaving education, culture, and the environment. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Theobald, P. (1997). Teaching the commons: Place, pride, and the renewal of community. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Traina, F., & Darley-Hill, S. (1995). Perspectives in bioregional education. Troy, OH: North American Association for Environmental Education.

Woodhouse, J. L. (Ed.). (2001 [August through November]). Special theme issue: Over the river & through the “hood:” Reviewing “place” as focus of pedagogy. Thresholds in Education, 27(3/4).

Woodhouse, J. L., & Knapp, C. E. (2000, December). Place-based curriculum and instruction: Outdoor and environmental education approaches. ERIC Digest. EDO - RC - OO - 6. Charleston, WV.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 11/30 at 06:23 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Friday, November 18, 2005

Helping students build the audiences they need

I enjoyed the chance to talk with Britney Maddox when we taped her reading her essay about her “oma” earlier this week. One of the things that struck me was the conviction in her voice when we asked her why she chose her grandmother’s story as her research topic. “She deserved to have her story told,” Britney said.

Her grandmother’s story is important--her family was dislocated and her brother was killed under Hitler during the war in Europe. It matters.

Lots of problems in education begin to untangle themselves when we attempt to do work that matters. Classes of high school students can create books that matter, like the one students in Harlowton wrote about the neighboring Hutterite colonies, building bridges between cultures. They can place buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, as students did in Chester, doing the research that preserves the struggles and achievements of those who made the town a better place in the past. They can reimagine the lives of young men who built the northwest through hard lives at logging camps, as students are doing in Libby.

Several things happen in such projects. Students learn the expected academic skills of research, writing, and presenting, of course. But they also create an audience for their work. They find themselves talking about what really matters to interested audiences--Hutterites, elders, archaeologists, ranchers. In telling the stories they find in their neighborhoods, they create the audience for their scholarship.

This is critically important. We know that young people figure out how to live their lives by forming a narrative identity--a life story that links what they have experienced in the past and what they perceive in the present with what they anticipate in the future--and that they model this life story upon the stories they find in the narrative environment that surrounds them. What is less often understood is that the narrative environment consists not just of the stories we hear, but it also includes the audiences that exist for the stories we tell.

In his important book The Redemptive Self, Dan McAdams cites research that people who tell stories to friends who appear not to be listening can’t remember those stories themselves a few weeks later. When the friends appeared to be interested, on the other hands, people remembered the stories they told vividly.

When we find appreciative audiences for stories we tell about good character and striving for good causes, even though we found those stories in the lives of other people, we are changed by telling them.

I found myself very engaged in the story Britney told me. At the end, she quoted her grandmother, and I imagined I heard the German Lutheran inflections enter her voice as she said, “I get a little disgusted with these people who bellyache about the war. .  .I had to see it when I was awfully young: the bullets flying around, the houses bombed. And then we had to go and pick up the dead soldiers. All those people who complain here, well, they need to go see it themselves. It’s a mess.”

When Britney began speaking her oma’s words, she stood up straighter and spoke with a firmness and conviction I hadn’t heard earlier in the paper. Then she shifted into her own voice. The firmness and conviction stayed: “Her story means a lot to me,” said Britney. “It has helped me better understand my own history and where I come from. And, it has shown me what things are worth fighting for, what things we should fight against, and that ultimately, there is always hope.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 11/18 at 03:43 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Lessons from Leading without Power

Mr. McNamar at the Daily Grind lists eight parallels between good families and good classrooms. These include such things as teaching clear and concrete values:  “In a world with shifting values, the classroom should be firm--a place where students know from day to day, what is expected.”

Useful advice for those who approach teaching as a way of helping young people see that an important reason for education, as for life itself, is to make the places we find ourselves into better places (and learning and telling the stories of all the ordinary heroes who find ways to do that).

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 11/18 at 12:12 PM
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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Is There a Distinctive Western Rural Culture?

Is There a Distinctive Western Rural Culture?

excerpted from The Rise of Urban Archipelagoes in the American West: A New Reservation Policy? by James R. Rasband, Environmental Law, 31: 1, 2001.

Instead of contending that the rural West is a backward culture in need of moral correction, other preservation advocates contend that Moab and other rural Western communities simply do not have a traditional culture to lose. As they see it, the idea of a distinct rural, cowboy culture is a myth.(242) Although some aspects of the West’s cultural narrative may be myth, suggesting that the rural West has no distinctive qualities seems just as inventive. The wide open spaces and soaring mountain ranges, the parching aridity,(243) and the endless acreage of sagebrush, pinion pine, and juniper are more than just the geographical aesthetics that attracted so many of us to the West. There is, as Ed Geary remarked in his study of Utah’s high plateau country,

a fundamental difference between inhabiting a landscape and coming to it as a visitor.... To be a native of a place like Escalante is a kind of fate, unchosen, inescapable. The scene of one’s first consciousness--the shape of the horizon, the quality of the light, the taste of the air--forms the baseline of reality.(244)

This sense of place, the sense of being rooted in a geographical setting,(245) helped create the distinctive qualities of the rural West. Distance and isolation dictated that the residents rely upon their families and one another to help with the hard work of farm and ranch.(246) It also caused rural residents to draw together for sociality and companionship, resulting in a strong tradition of volunteerism and participation in community affairs.(247) Churches became not only places of worship but also of recreation, education, and charity; local high schools became centers of community activity,(248) as attested by any week-night drive on the rural highways of the West, where high school sports are the primary fare. Critics of the idea of a distinct Western culture would be quick to point out that modern society and technology have long been making inroads on all Americans’ sense of place, including those in the communities of the rural West. Residents of the rural West travel outside the region with ease, eat the same food, watch the same videos and television shows, and root for the same sports franchises as residents of other parts of the United States.(249) Even if the West at one point was culturally unique, critics might say, it is no longer.(250) It is hard to dispute that the culture of the rural West is a diminishing resource, but my perception is that a sense of place still animates the rural West to a greater extent than elsewhere. This is particularly true of those communities primarily dependent on ranching and agriculture whose families often enjoy multigenerational ties to the land.(251) This conclusion may be a bit romantic, but as Charles Wilkinson has remarked: “Objectively justified or not, the West is a place where romance is unavoidable fact, a place you cannot talk about, cannot think about, without an overlay of romance."(252)

Perhaps more important than what commentators think about the distinctiveness of the rural West is what rural Westerners think. And the evidence is strong that many, if not most, view their way of life as distinctive and jeopardized. Witness the plethora of books and articles on the demise of the rural West.(253) If rural communities value their distinctiveness, isn’t that some reason to consider their claims regardless of definitional disputes? Given the nineteenth century’s devaluation and demolition of cultural distinctiveness, isn’t there danger in being so certain about a cultural valuation?


Some will surely be quick to point out that even if the rural West has distinctive qualities that may be said to rise to the level of a culture, it is surely not as real or unique as the cultural heritage of Indian tribes.(255) Professor Dan Tarlock, in an essay titled Can Cowboys Become Indians? Protecting Western Communities as Endangered Cultural Remnants, explores the question of whether rural communities in the West should receive some of the same cultural protections as Indian tribes. Initially, he observes that cultural claims of rural Westerners have not been given much credence “because we recognize cultural rights almost exclusively to protect defined religious groups or aboriginal minorities with non-Western value systems from oppression by the dominant culture; not to protect one segment of the dominant culture from another."(256) Tarlock argues, however, that with post-modernism’s recognition that culture is a construct,(257) the distinctive culture claims of rural Westerners, who dwell in what he terms “at-risk” communities,(258) are “more legitimate than many have assumed."(259) He concludes that even if the distinctive culture claims of rural Westerners are different and not as strong as those of Indian tribes, their claims have enough merit that they should be “factored into efforts to re-envision the Western landscape and the legal institutions that will develop to manage and sustain this vision."(260)

Professor Tarlock focuses on the comparison between present-day Indian tribes and rural communities rather than on the historical analogy between our conduct today and that of our nineteenth century predecessors that is the focus of this article, but he has it about right.(261) Professor Tarlock is correct, for example, that rural Westerners do not have a history of oppression. Indeed, they participated in the dispossession of the Indian tribes and have long been politically powerful in the West. But the tribes’ history of oppression only began with the first white settlement of the West. Moreover, the political power of rural communities has been dissipating since Baker v. Carr,(262) and the aggregation of voters in the urban archipelagoes of the West has generally reduced rural interests to a disfavored political position.(263) Even in historical context, however, the rural West’s claims to cultural identity do not seem as powerful as those of Indian tribes, particularly given the absence of blood ties and the pervasive influence of popular culture in the West. The rural West’s culture claim may not be as strong, but it is not insignificant. Even though tribes’ ties to their land date from time immemorial, that should not devalue the real ties to the land of some communities in the rural West which have families whose ties to the land go back six or seven generations.(264)

The questions about the analogy between Indian tribes and rural communities in the West go beyond the issue of whether the rural West has an equally distinctive culture. A number of other legitimate concerns arise with respect to whether the analogy works. Initially, it must be recognized that whatever pain is caused by the economic and cultural dislocations in the rural West, it pales by comparison to the suffering and hardships faced by Indian tribes. If ranchers and other commodity users are forced off the public lands to which they have become attached and into the urban archipelagoes and Moabs of the West, at least they can choose where to go and are allowed to live with relative dignity.

Another distinction is that certain components of the rural economy have been upheld by federal subsidy, which was not the case for Indian tribes in the nineteenth century. The mining law requires only the barest of payments for the right to locate valuable minerals on the public lands(265); the fees charged for grazing on the public lands are generally below market price(266); and timber on the public lands is often sold at prices below the federal cost.(267) It is one thing to encourage the demise of rural communities by stripping them of rights and privileges; it is quite another to facilitate that demise by ceasing to subsidize certain public lands uses.(268) That said, the subsidies, particularly for public lands ranchers--the group best identified with a distinct rural culture--are not that large,(269) and hardly distinguish commodity interests from other sectors of society. Moreover, if rural Western communities established themselves as a result of federal subsidies, it is only because they responded to the national goal of settling and developing the West.(270)

Whether rural communities have reason to rely on subsidy is a smaller part of a larger issue, namely whether rural communities have any right to rely on the continued use of the public lands. Some may believe that this issue is what separates current public lands communities from the Indian tribes of the nineteenth century. Indian tribes, whose presence preceded that of the federal government, had a valid claim to title that the United States, via the discovery doctrine,(271) failed to honor; whereas rural communities have no legitimate property interest in the public lands. Removing rural communities from the public lands is different, the argument could be made, because their use of the public lands has always been at the sufferance of the public. This distinction has some merit, but ironically, to make the argument is in some sense to make the analogy.

It is important to recognize that in some instances rural residents do have property rights in the public lands. Unpatented mining claims,(272) water and ditch rights,(273) and R.S. 2477 rights-of-way(274) are examples. But with respect to the largest and most frequently trumpeted property rights claim of rural communities--namely a property right in grazing allotments--it is accurate to say that there is no private property interest in the public lands.(275) The reason there is no property interest is what makes the analogy interesting. Although those who adhere to the Lockean notion that property is an inalienable right(276) might disagree, most others would contend that property rights exist because the state chooses to recognize them.(277) Traditionally, long-established ties to particular land have been a key element in the determination of a property interest; witness the rules of adverse possession.(278) In the case of Indian tribes, however, the United States chose not to recognize their long-established ties to the land, except to permit use and occupancy until Congress decided upon purchase or conquest.(279) In the case of grazing allotments, the United States has likewise chosen not to recognize ranchers’ historical ties to the land, except to permit grazing until BLM decides otherwise under its land use planning procedures.(280) Thus, it does not distinguish the two removal policies to argue that tribal property rights could have been recognized but those of rural communities could not. In fact, both are the result of a positive law determination.(281)

Describing the United States’s allocation of the tribes’ property rights as a question of positive law is not intended to ignore the question whether the United States had any jural or legislative authority over the tribes as separate sovereigns. The argument that the United States had no such power is, however, a natural law, inalienable rights argument.(282) To the extent natural law is the basis of a criticism of the analogy between the two communities, it does not make sense to distinguish rural communities’ claim to a property interest in the public lands on the positive law strength of those claims. Rather, rural communities’ claims would need to be judged on the same basis, namely whether rural communities have the sort of distinctive culture and longstanding ties to the land that merit some sort of recognition. As discussed above, the answer appears to be that the tribes had greater cultural distinctiveness and longer ties to the land but that the distinctiveness and rootedness of rural communities is not inconsequential.

Of course, the positive law status of ranchers and rural communities is not unrelated to the strength of their natural law claim because the determination that ranchers would have no property rights in the public lands adjoining their communities was arguably made before they arrived(283); whereas the determination for tribes came after. Thus, public lands users today do not have as strong a reliance argument as did the tribes in the nineteenth century. But just as was the case with the distinctive culture question, to say that rural communities’ reliance interest is less than that of the Indian tribes does not mean that rural communities can assert no reliance interest at all. That reliance comes not only from long use but also from the fact the federal government had long encouraged rural community use of public lands as a part of federal public lands policy.(284) Despite the legal doctrine denying them property rights in their grazing lands,(285) ranchers can also point to a longstanding federal practice of renewing their permits(286) and the promise in the Taylor Grazing Act that their grazing privileges will be “safeguarded,” albeit “so far as consistent with” the other provisions of the Act, including the denial or “any right, title, interest, or estate in or to the lands."(287) In the end, even if the signals have been mixed, it is hard to blame rural communities for coming to rely upon their ability to continue using the public lands. If that reliance interest is not as pristine as that of Indian tribes, it still cannot be easily dismissed.

A final distinction between the two removal policies is that unlike the de jure removal and reservation policy of the nineteenth century reflected in statutes, treaties, executive orders, and judicial decisions, the move today from rural communities to urban archipelagoes and gateway oases is only partly de jure and often the de facto result of a variety of economic realities and social preferences. In contrast to the Indian tribes, ranchers and commodity users are not often being forced off the public lands. Rather, they are leaving of their own accord in pursuit of greater economic opportunity.(288) The decline of the rural West is not solely attributable to federal public lands policy. It is also a result of markets and technology that for over a century have imposed a downward pressure on employment in rural communities.(289) The mining, logging, and farming industries do not produce the same number of jobs they did fifty years ago, because they do not require the same number of employees. Technology has rendered many tasks obsolete.(290) Economic dislocation in the rural West is not a new phenomenon,(291) and it will almost surely continue, regardless of whether the law continues to shift in favor of preservation.

That said, change and economic dislocation in communities dependent on public lands has not all been de facto. It has also been de jure. As discussed above, during the last forty years, the law has responded to the majority’s demand for preservation and removal by limiting or eliminating commodity use on significant portions of the public lands.(292) Moreover, as discussed in more detail below, during Secretary Babbitt’s tenure as Interior Secretary, this pattern has accelerated.(293) It is precisely this de jure removal effort that prompts the analogy to nineteenth century Indian policy.

In sum, although a number of potentially legitimate questions could be raised about the analogy between the two removal policies, the similarities between the two policies remain significant. The current policy of removal for preservation is not as egregious as the removal for settlement and development in the nineteenth century, nor is it as direct as the removal for preservation policies advocated in other countries of the world where indigenous peoples have been the target.(294) Nevertheless, the similarities between our current and our nineteenth century removal policies should be sufficient to prompt a critical examination of our approach to enshrining preservation and recreation as the new dominant uses of the public lands.

In Fire on the Plateau, Charles Wilkinson argues that the history of the American West has been one of “conquest by certitude."(295) His conclusion rings true with respect to federal public lands and Indian policy in the nineteenth century. Americans were confident in the moral, economic, and scientific wisdom of manifest destiny. Americans knew the best use of the public lands and what was best for the Indians who dwelled there. The tougher question is whether Professor Wilkinson’s conclusion is an equally apt description of the current shift to preservation and recreation. Is that shift simply the latest chapter in a history of conquest by certitude? The purpose of the analogy is to make us wonder. Can we confidently declare our desire to preserve the public lands is more altruistic than the desire of our nineteenth century predecessors to settle and develop them, particularly when a significant, if not the foremost reason for setting aside those lands is to provide recreational and scenic amenities, both of which have significant negative impacts? Can we be so certain that removing commodity users from the public lands in favor of preservation is in the best interests of the adjacent rural communities? Are we sure the distinctive characteristics of the rural West and the residents’ bonds to the land are not worthy of some recognition? I believe the answer to these questions is no. And if we cannot be certain that our new public land aspirations are so much more noble than those of our Nineteenth century counterparts, what should we do differently?

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 11/10 at 03:39 AM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Space and Place

Space and place are two distinct terms here; of the two, space is probably the less understood or the more-taken-for-granted. As logic or common sense would indicate, space is “bigger” than place, but the two are intricately related. Places emerge from space with the passage of time: “Spaces become places as they become ‘time-thickened.’ They have a past and a future that binds people together round them” (Crang, Mike. Cultural Geography. New York: Routledge, 1998, p. 103). Space is the more conceptual notion—a realm of practices—while place is defined by people and events. In one sense, places are fixed positions on a map, or you can follow directions to get there. Space, if you will, structures our habitats but cannot be inhabited. Places touch people’s lives and evoke memories and emotions.


Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference, by Nedra Reynolds (Carbondale, IL : Southern Illinois University Press, 2004)

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 11/03 at 05:45 PM
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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Time and Place in Butte

by Larry R. Ford

Excerpted from Continuity and Change in the American City, The Geographical Review. Volume: 85. Issue: 4. 1995.

As people and capital have become more mobile and as cities increasingly compete for a slice of the economic pie, a marketable place image has become an essential component of nearly all urban growth strategies. Although the media have long focused on the problematic images of large cities such as New York and Los Angeles, small cities also have had to be concerned with creating a charming and interesting sense of place to present to the world. Some cities emphasize the old and proclaim themselves historically significant; others emphasize their key roles in the modern scheme of things. Most cities, however, seek a middle ground - a judicious mixture of new and old images, which Wyckoff nicely illustrates with a case study of Butte.

Butte was once relatively more important than it is today, but unlike Charleston, Savannah, or other historic cities the landscape of Butte cannot be easily described as cute or picturesque. The massive open-pit mine as well as numerous additional icons of mining that dot the landscape are reminders of the brutality of industrial-era production rather than of a pleasant pace of genteel living. Toxic waste and other forms of environmental degradation add to the problematic status of the historic Butte image. Consequently, the city eagerly has sought new images and functions as the old ones have become obsolete.

There is an irony here that in current parlance could be called deep. We continue to generalize about cities with models derived from the industrial era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while we endeavor to erase the landscapes of that time through everything from urban renewal and highway construction to governmental policies that encourage housing and commercial abandonment and industrial decay. We have also endeavored to erase many of the images associated with the past and to define them as inappropriate for modern consumption. Many actual landscapes are destroyed, and their histories as preserved are often rewritten. The United States is in danger of becoming a nation of derelict landscapes, a nation without a meaningful history, unless it learns to appreciate the terrible scenes of its industrial past as well as the more pleasing ones.

The pleasant and picturesque landscapes of the past are easier to integrate with the new than are those that are truly awesome. Nearly every American city has an Olde Towne or perhaps a revitalized set of waterfront piers and warehouses. Steel mills, oil refineries, and open-pit mining are not only difficult to recycle and adapt to new uses but also are usually located far from new developments. Images of the new and the old are more discordant in such cases. A viable sense of place, however, should include icons of the whole past; one layer should lead to the next. Sanitized pasts that eliminate important transitional periods and places can be befuddling. When this happens, the geography of the city can be confusing, because districts with declassee images are likely to be missing or ignored while others are displayed with gusto.

Butte has a relatively simple and uncomplicated past, but the spatial integration of images is nonetheless problematic. The postmodern city of consumption seems in danger of becoming spatially and historically separate from the older city of production. As the high-altitude sports center and other new activities and images that have nothing to do with the older sense of place emerge, there is an increasing trend toward the creation of a sharp break between the past and the present and future. When new icons are located far from old ones, the break becomes even more distinct, and the overall sense of place is more muddied. If the older images are brutal and even toxic, the sense of separation may be required by law and may be economically and socially desirable.

The issue again is one of the size and spatial arrangement of the different types of territories. Although it can be asserted that all American cities suffer from too much space and thus too much sprawl and uneven development, the smaller cities of the West epitomize this condition. Some American cities seem to be constantly running away from themselves. Butte provides an especially interesting case study of a city that is attempting to build a new urban geography by emphasizing both its cultural heritage and a physically separate and unrelated set of new functions and images. Perhaps the United States can learn from its experience.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 11/01 at 10:04 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

How to save the world: beginning again

Dave Pollard at How to Save the World summarizes the two visions for the future that David Ehrenfeld described in his 1993 book, Beginning Again.

One depends on command and control and a faith in big solutions to what appear to be big problems. This is the view that brought us Homeland Security and No Child Left Behind.

The second vision is both more optimistic and more likely to prevail in the long term, though at present the forces that favor big, centralized responses to every trouble are powerful and well-financed. The second vision is the vision of free people making lives for themselves by making the places they live safer and more beautiful, as well as more convenient and more abundant. This vision includes dignified work for all of us. It involves

. . .a transformation of the dream of progress to one of honesty, resilience, appreciation of beauty and scale, and stability, based in part on the inventive imitation of nature… It will be advanced by countless people working separately and in small groups, sharing only a common dream of life. They will tend to be flexible, inventive and pragmatic, and most will have practical skills—carpentry, the building of windmills and small bridges, design and repair of engines and computers, the recognition and care of soils, the ability to teach. Nature will have entered their lives at an early age and will remain as a source of joy. They will welcome the challenge of the world that Orwell hoped for, a simpler, harder world. They will devote their first energies to the places where they live.

When we see the world this way, we see more readily the best and highest use for schools. Education becomes less a preparation to rent one’s life to the highest bidder and more a way of living that links past, present, and future through work worth doing.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 09/07 at 02:49 PM
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© 2005 Montana Heritage Project

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Essential Questions for 2006 Institute

At the 2006 Institute in Butte, June 19-20, we will explore questions raised by Robert Frost’s poem (below) through Montana literature such as The Big Sky and Fools Crow.

The main character in each novel lives in a time when the economy and community is changing, and each refuses to let go of some things. They make different choices and endure different consequences.

These are some of the questions that arise for Montanans at this moment in history, as well as for individuals at nearly any point in their lives: What should we leave behind? What should we refuse to part with? What might we restore, or return to?

I Could Give All To Time

Robert Frost

To Time it never seems that he is brave
To set himself against the peaks of snow
To lay them level with the running wave,
Nor is he overjoyed when they lie low,
But only grave, contemplative and grave.

What now is inland shall be ocean isle,
Then eddies playing round a sunken reef
Like the curl at the corner of a smile;
And I could share Time’s lack of joy or grief
At such a planetary change of style.

I could give all to Time except - except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There
And what I would not part with I have kept.

Butte provides a rich context to think about what we lose, what we refuse to let go, and what we might restore. It might be a good place to read an education writer such as Diane Ravitch, who wonders what we might have lost in education that we could restore.

Stegner took the title of his fictional study of friendship, Crossing to Safety, from the last stanza of Frost’s poem. What does it mean to cross to safety? What can adolescents be told of safety, and how to cross to it?

What readings would you suggest? What historians, scientists, writers, moral philosophers, educators, etc. would you like to hear? What topics would you like to explore? 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
on 08/13 at 07:06 PM
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