2017 Richard White, PH.D.
The American West as Technological Project:
Innovating to Keep Things the Same
The modern American West began as a technological project and it has become an analog for modern transformative technologies. The boosters of Silicon Valley, proponents of high speed rail, and others reach for analogies to the West. Such parallels are more revealing than those making them intend. Then and now Americans have deployed new technologies to enhance the existing order rather than alter it.
These efforts usually miscarry not because the technologies fail, but because the institutions that produce them, rather than the tools they deploy, form the real center for change.
Dr. Richard White is the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University. He specializes in the history of the American West, environmental history and Native American history. He also focuses on the development of capitalism in the late 19th century, particularly through examining the construction of the transcontinental railroad. His book, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America (W. W. Norton, 2011), was a finalist for a 2012 Pulitzer Prize and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History.
Dr. White is a MacArthur Fellow and a recipient of the Mellon Distinguished Professor Award. His work has won numerous academic prizes, and he has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2016 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States which has played an important role in American cultural and intellectual life since its establishment in 1743. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Antiquarian Society.
White joined the Stanford faculty in 1998 after teaching at the University of Washington, The University of Utah and Michigan State University. He earned his doctoral and masters degrees from the University of Washington. His acclaimed book, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge University Press, 1991), was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. His research on environmental history has changed historians’ understanding of how to account for change over time and how to relate environmental change to the weakening of Native American cultures.
Dr. White was faculty co-director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West from 2002 to 2012 and was co-founder of the Spatial History Lab, now part of the Stanford Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA). This interdisciplinary lab supports scholars using digital tools and methods to advance research in the humanities and related fields in novel ways. He served as president of the Organization of American Historians from 2006 to 2007.
He previously served as president of the Western History Association.