Susan Lee Johnson holds the inaugural Harry Reid Endowed Chair for the History of the Intermountain West at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is President-Elect of the Western History Association. Johnson is the author of Writing Kit Carson: Fallen Heroes in a Changing West and Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush. A historian of western North America, Johnson studies the history of gender, desire, and embodiment, and of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity. Johnson’s current project explores how the nineteenth-century Santa Fe Trail connected two worlds of slavery—Black chattel slavery in Missouri and points east and Indigenous captivity and coerced labor in New Mexico and the borderlands.
This lecture examines how and why the field of western history professionalized relatively late. The Western History Association wasn't founded until 1962. It was preceded by a group called The Westerners, founded in the 1940s by nonprofessional historians, mostly white men. So in the Cold War era when film and TV westerns proliferated in popular culture, it was amateur rather academic historians who advanced the study of the West. The 1960s saw a contest between amateurs and academics that had lasting consequences for the field, especially for those committed to the study of non-white, non-male westerners.