Apr 062005
Authors: Justin Jarvis

Well-known historian and author Richard White presented "Dumb Growth? Rethinking the Transcontinental Railroads and Development of the West" Wednesday night as part of the 40th annual Furniss Lecture Series, the longest running lecture series at CSU. The presentation was in the Engineering Building, room 100, and about 90 people attended.

White's presentation was centered on the rapid construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, which he termed "Dumb Growth."

The mass building of the railroads was a mistake. If the railroads were a bad thing for the West, then without them the West may have been better off. By this I am trying to imagine what "other wests" may have been like, White said.

White's argument tonight is unique. Historians should look at his examples and realize history can be looked at in other ways, said Gerald Staatz, a junior history major.

"He takes a fresh look on many things," Staatz said. "In this lecture especially, he takes an issue and looks at it differently, which gives you a broader perspective."

White, who is the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University, has an extensive history of teaching and research. He previously taught at Michigan State University, the University of Utah and the University of Washington.

White is a versatile historian who specializes in U.S. and environmental history. He has written across a long span of time and a diversity of topics, said Mark Fiege, a history professor at CSU and one of White's former students.

"As my professor, he was amazing, astonishing and brilliant. He was tough and challenging, but very good to his students," Fiege said. "Every seminar and every lecture was a rush. He is a very intense guy. He treated us not as students, but as historians."

White is one of the best-known American historians today. He is well regarded in his different fields of history, said professor Gregory Smoak, a history professor at CSU and also one of White's former students.

"He is someone who stays on the cutting edge," Smoak said. "He is always trying new things and from new perspectives, which has characterized his career."

White is known for his provocative book and essay titles, and "The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815," was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

"He has the ability to see things or notice things about the past that unsettle people's preconceived notions of history," Fiege said. "He has an unusual breadth of work and unusual titles, which might clue us that he doesn't talk in stereotypical images. He is a very provocative speaker."

The Furniss Lecture Series is a long-standing tradition at CSU.

"The series itself is something special at CSU," said Nathan Citino, a history professor at CSU. "It's an opportunity to bring a leading historian to campus and not just talk to students about history, but interact with them."

The Furniss Lecture Series will continue at 11 a.m. today when White will present "How Popular Culture Made Nature and Naturalized Society: The Disney Effect." This event is free and will be held in the Lory Student Center, room 220-222. White will also present "History and Memory" at the Furniss Banquet, which will be held at 7 p.m. today at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center. Tickets for the banquet must be purchased in advance from the CSU History Department. Tickets are $6 for students and $13 for everyone else.

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