Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fort Lewis prof featured in new Ken Burns documentary on national parks

Southwest Studies professor Duane Smith, who has taught Colorado and regional history at Fort Lewis College since 1964, gets his time in the limelight in the new Ken Burns documentary, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."

Smith writes an occasional Durango-history column for the Durango Herald, and he is the author of more than 30 books. Six of those are specifically about Mesa Verde National Park, including Mesa Verde: Shadows of the Centuries and Women to the Rescue: Creating Mesa Verde National Park.

In the recently released six-part, 12-hour long PBS documentary series, Smith offers commentary on events surrounding the founding of Mesa Verde National Park.

The park was created in 1906, after its many ancient pueblos were discovered by cowboys-turned-archaeologists from Mancos, Colo. Smith describes how a Swedish aristocrat and amateur archaeologist was detained in Durango when he tried to take his plunderings from Mesa Verde back to Sweden, until authorities concluded he wasn't breaking any laws and had to let him go.

Smith also relates the unusually powerful political role for the time that women played in getting Mesa Verde National Park created.

The film is especially relevant and timely in light of the recent government arrests for pothunting, focused in and around Blanding, Utah. One of the reasons the busts so rattled the community in Blanding is that pothunting is a long-time multi-generational tradition, dating back to a time when it wasn't so taboo.

Tradition is important -- but still there's ... common sense -- meaning a sense of the common good. Slavery was a long-time multi-generational tradition, too. Traditions -- even family and community traditions -- must evolve along with appreciation and understanding, with an eye for the common good.

This same transition of perspective on the governmental level -- that led to laws that led to busts, including the ones that have hit the Four Corners area -- is really the core story of the Burns documentary.

Learn more about "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" here.

Learn more about Mesa Verde National Park here.

Read a very good AP story about the effects of the recent pot-hunting crackdown here.

There's also a rather funny review of the Burns documentary in this month's Outside magazine. Check it out here.

Below is a five-minute segment from the Mesa Verde portion of the documentary. Duane Smith appears at about 4:30.

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