Montana State University

Environmental historian named Wallace Stegner endowed chair at MSU

July 15, 2016 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Mark Fiege, a historian known for his writing and thinking about the environment of the American West and the country’s national parks, has been selected as the Wallace Stegner Endowed Chair in Western American Studies at MSU. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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Mark Fiege, a historian known for his writing and thinking about the environment of the American West and the country’s national parks, has been selected as the Wallace Stegner Endowed Chair in Western American Studies at Montana State University.

Fiege, who is the author of critically acclaimed books in the area of environmental history, served as the Wallace Stegner Visiting Professor at MSU during the 2015 spring semester. His permanent appointment to the chair, a tenured full professorship, was announced by Nic Rae, dean of MSU’s College of Letters and Science. The Stegner Endowed Chair is housed in the college’s Department of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies.

“I am thrilled that we have been able to attract a scholar of Mark’s stature to MSU,” Rae said. “Mark’s appointment to the Stegner Chair in tandem with our new Western Lands and Peoples Initiative will establish MSU as a center of excellence for the study of the past, present and future of the North American West.”

Rae said that endowed chairs are the highest academic position universities can bestow upon faculty. They are usually funded and sustained by permanently invested funds and attract noted scholars in their fields, he said. In addition, endowed chairs help the university boost its reputation in academic and research programs.

Rae said he invites the public to learn more about Fiege and his scholarship and MSU’s Western Lands and Peoples: Perspectives on the American West Lecture Series when Fiege delivers his inaugural Stegner Lecture, set for 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3, at the Hager Auditorium in MSU’s Museum of the Rockies. The event is free and a reception preceding the lecture will begin at 5:15 p.m. in the museum lobby.

Fiege said he was “deeply honored to hold the Stegner Chair and thrilled to join the faculty at MSU.”

“I have long admired the outstanding scholars in the Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies, and I couldn't be more pleased to work with them,” Fiege said. “I look forward to sustaining the memory and legacy of Wallace Stegner, a towering figure in Western American letters."

Fiege’s academic degrees, all in history, include a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University, a master’s from Washington State University and a doctorate from the University of Utah. He has taught at Colorado State University since 1994. In 2015 he received the CSU Alumni Association Best Teacher Award. Fiege co-founded the CSU Public Lands History Center. He also was co-founder of Parks as Portals to Learning, an interdisciplinary research and learning project at CSU in collaboration with National Park Service staff at Rocky Mountain National Park. Fiege was also CSU’s William E. Morgan Chair of Liberal Arts from 2008-2013.

An imaginative and wide-ranging writer, Fiege recently co-edited the anthology, “National Parks beyond the Nation: Global Perspectives on ‘America's Best Idea,’” with Adrian Howkins and Jared Orsi. The book was published this year by the University of Oklahoma Press. He is the author of “The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States,” published in 2012 by the University of Washington Press and “Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West,” published by the University of Washington Press in 1999. That book was the co-winner of the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Award from the Forest History Society.

Fiege has also published scholarly papers and articles about Western environmental history including “The Weedy West: Mobile Nature, Boundaries, and Common Space in the Montana Landscape,” published by the Western Historical Quarterly. The article won several prizes including the Theodore C. Blegen Award from the Forest History Society, the Wayne D. Rasmussen Award from the Agricultural History Society, the Alice Hamilton Prize from the American Society for Environmental History and the Oscar O. Winther Award from the Western History Association.

Fiege is working on the book “Elegant Conservation: Resource Management in a Time of Unprecedented Uncertainty,” which also was the title of Fiege’s Wallace Stegner lecture that he delivered at MSU in spring 2015. He is partnering on the book with Ben Bobowski, superintendent of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

Fiege explained that the concept for the book is based on his observation that despite the dissension in the country about many matters – characteristic of the so-called “Age of Fracture” – there is considerable grassroots activity and cooperation in conservation and resource management. He has termed this phenomenon “Elegant Conservation,” which describes “efforts to foster pragmatic, pluralistic, socially responsive, process-oriented methods that rise above fears of collapse.”

The Wallace Stegner Endowed Chair in Western Studies at MSU continues the legacy of the late Wallace Stegner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, short story writer, environmentalist and historian who is now often called the “Dean of Western Writers.” Stegner spent part of his childhood in Montana, and he notably spoke at MSU shortly before his death in 1993. The MSU Wallace Stegner Endowed Chair in Western American Studies focuses on teaching and research in history, literature and philosophy with a concentration on pressing Western issues and is supported by the Stegner Chair Endowment.

The MSU Stegner Chair was last held by writer David Quammen, who makes his home in Bozeman and who held the position from 2005-2008.

Jody Sanford (406) 994-7791,