Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Grand Canyon, Its Political History, and This Blog

My interest in discussing this blog not having been acceptable to the organizers of the upcoming Grand Canyon History Symposium (they "wanted to ensure that all selected presentations stay focused around the topic of the Grand Canyon"), I still wish to put out my ideas about the suitability of blogging about the Canyon and its political history. Since this post is embedded in the blog with all the entries that I would have used to illustrate its value, I only have refer to various entries and topics; the reader can check them out.

My emphasis to start would have been that this blog is for sharing , one voice in a conversation about the Canyon that is Making available episodes, comments, and opinions about the political history of the Grand Canyon and what that history may indicate for the Canyon's future., as the blog header says. Here I would have talked a bit about the many entries I have made about the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park. This is a perfect history blogging topic, heightened NPS right now is carrying out a review of the boundary, assembling what it calls a meta-file that brings together all that NPS believes is validly applicable to determining where the boundary is. In other words, the topic is rooted in the history of the past 130 years, is a live topic for the administering agency, will continue to be history-in-the-making since there are disputes that will not be settled (I bet), and is of immense practical importance now and in the future--since as I say in a number of places in my blog, the Canyon is the center of one web in the American politico-legal system, which accepts as a principle that lines-on-the-ground are essential in determining rights and responsibilities. (And of course, though this would be a digression, many of the "lines" that make up the GCNP's boundary are very far from being of the surveyor type. Not to mention that the wet-foot/dry-foot boundary between the Park and the Hualapai lands fluctuates all the time.)
So a blog, to begin with, is a chance to write history, to comment on it, to relate it to on-going matters, to take part, that is, in the conversation about the Canyon and how human beings do, and want to, deal with it. Without making invidious comparisons, a blog is plugged in, whereas a book, once published, is launched out into the world as its own thing. Mixed metaphors for two different media.

I would have brought up the printed word--the book, the article--because I have done that, and have some feel for its advantages and disadvantages. Then I would have confessed that as of a couple of years ago, I had failed in my attempts to write a comprehensive GC political history. A long-term project: I both saved my files and collected the materials from others in the 1960's and 70's, fully intending a magnum opus. I tried in the 80's, the 90's, the 00's. Here, I would have displayed two documents, one a spreadsheet of the topics, participants, and timelines involved in a comprehensive work; the other an outline of the book as I projected it a few years ago. I would then have brought out my work on the Havasupai and their finally successful involvement in the American political-legal system, this being the one segment of The Book that I got to draft form. It was big, and yet in the overall scheme, was only a small part; a good illustration of how daunting any near-complete book project would have been. 

However, even more pertinent, I would have been able to discuss how my work on the Havasupai had changed, for in the blog -- true to its nature -- I had made a first run, and then more recently, a second at this tremendously exciting topic, so central to ancient, modern, and on-going Grand Canyon history. History is being made, and a blog is the extendible canvas on which it can be portrayed, revised, added to -- and for that matter, be graffitied on by anyone wishing to comment. Which again, is part of the conversation, part of the challenge even. The blog is out there, yes, but anyone can offer civil, pertinent commentary. This allows supporting evidence, corrections, alternate views to be brought up in the same place. A magazine review can talk about a book, but they cannot yet be easily brought together in a common discussion, as a blog can. 

So my revisions & corrections, second & third thoughts, along with those anyone else wants to offer can be raised right away. Moreover, digressions are never beside the point. A blog entry does not have to be weighed to see if it unbalances the overall, as an additional chapter in a book might. For instance, I would have said, there is the question of TR and why he never pushed for national park status--a great chance to re-look at his legacy and at the political environment his conservation efforts were carried out in. And where questions can be raised, further research can be done; again, the blog can attract in an immediate way attention to something that was forgotten or insufficiently explored. For instance, the question of dam-building in the Canyon has been answered (for our time, anyway; and may the future have enough to contend with that it draws back from tampering with the answer we wrought), but the whys and wherefores of how this nation said "NO!" are still a lively topic, and I would have used some of my blog entries to illustrate how, as I explored the materials of the 1930-50's, I came to understand just how many different knives contributed to the many cuts that finally dissipated those mighty dreams. 

I would have spent a little time talking about materials: Files of archive materials and notes on them, for instance, can illustrate how a blog is an exploratory, ordering tool. One can nose through the files of several players--the issue of proposals for dams comes to mind--using the blog essay as a way to set down the many pieces in separate entries, without worrying overmuch whether they are in the stricter order a book would demand. 
  Then there are the maps. We are, after all, talking about a piece of the earth, and maps are available to depict it in myriad forms. From my previous book experience, I can say how delighted using the blog makes me as I see how many maps (and other illustrations) I can easily incorporate, with fidelity, and exactly where they belong. 

And finally, there is the sense of accomplishment. In each entry, some bit of information has been rescued from a file's obscurity and put out in a public place for anyone interested to be able to come across and use. Some chunk of how humans have treated the Canyon can be displayed for all to weigh and judge. If knowledge of human activity, and the spread of that knowledge, is what history is about, then the Grand Canyon's history can only benefit the more blogs it inspires.

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