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May 2009

Release Date: May 4, 2009ASU Logo

Inaugural Fellows Named for Excellence in West Texas History Program

Two historians – Megan Benson of Norman, Okla., and Daniel Kerr of Borger, Texas – have been named the inaugural recipients of the Excellence in West Texas History Fellowships, which grants fellows $40,000 to research historical topics on the region for 12 months.

Administered by the West Texas Collection at Angelo State University and funded by gifts from The CH Foundation of Lubbock, the Tucker Foundation of San Angelo and an anonymous donor, the program is designed to spur interest in West Texas history, to broaden the use of regional archives and to fund significant academic research and publication about West Texas.

Benson, who specializes in legal, Native American and environmental history, will be studying the legal history of Texas water law, focusing on the historical context of the “rule of capture,” which allows landowners in most cases to use unlimited groundwater from beneath their land regardless of how it might affect neighboring landowners. While the study will cover the legal texts, the fellowship will allow Benson to use regional archives to determine how the law affected the ordinary circumstance of everyday people, particularly in the 20th century.

Kerr will expand the research initiated in his doctoral dissertation, which examined pastoral uses of the semiarid plains along ecological lines. The study focused on the migratory pastoralism of the New Mexico Hispanos who grazed sheep in the Texas Panhandle as well as the stock-farming system that helped to settle the region. With the fellowship, Kerr will explore the operation of a broader cross-section of West Texas ranches, while seeking further documentation of the Hispano presence on the southern plains and their contributions to the evolution of the region.

The two fellows were selected from more than 20 national applicants, representing more than a dozen institutions, including Cornell University, Western Illinois University, Kansas State University, Texas Tech University, University of Houston, University of Texas at El Paso, TCU and University of Texas.

Suzanne Campbell, head of ASU’s West Texas Collection and administrator of the Excellence in West Texas History Fellowship Program, said the selection committee was pleased that the inaugural invitation for proposals received so many high quality applications from so many prestigious universities. In addition to the national response, she said she was also pleased by the support of universities throughout West Texas.

“Virtually all of the public and private universities in West Texas have endorsed the fellowship program and its goals,” Campbell said. “The university support, the gifts of our benefactors and the work of our fellows will help maintain the vibrancy of West Texas history for decades to come.”

Inaugural fellow Benson holds her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, all in history, from the University of Oklahoma, where she served as a Hoving Fellow and teaching assistant from 1994-98. She has taught history at the University Science and Arts of Oklahoma, Rose State College and Oklahoma City Community College. She has worked as a program officer for the Oklahoma Humanities Council, served as a research historian for Historical Research Associates Inc. and worked as a tribal consultant on natural resource development and education.

Inaugural fellow Kerr is a candidate for his Ph.D. in American studies at the University of Kansas. He holds his master’s degree in English from West Texas A&M University and his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas Tech University. He has taught courses at the University of Kansas in history and American studies and courses in English at both Kansas and WTAMU. Additionally, he has worked as a freelance journalist in New Delhi and Kashmir and reported for the Daily Republic in Fairfield, Calif., and the Hart Upstream Energy Group.