The first (of five) Resident Scholar lectures for 2015 is happening on Monday, August 10. Please consider joining us if you are available.
Dr. David Benac, associate professor of history at Western Michigan University, will be presenting his talk, “Log Rolling, Ax Throwing and the Owl: The Heritage Legacy of the Timber Industry in Oregon.” His talk on the 10th will be at 2:00 p.m. in the Willamette East room on the Valley Library’s third floor.
Dr. David Benac has used his term as scholar-in-residence at the Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center to advance his research for his current book project. With this lecture, he will provide an overview of his ongoing work with special attention to how the materials at the Valley Library are helping to support and refine his book.
The Resident Scholar Program, sponsored by Oregon State University Libraries, awards stipends of up to $2,500 per month, renewable up to three months (for a total maximum grant award of $7,500). Stipends are awarded to visiting researchers whose proposals detail a compelling potential use of the materials held in the OSU Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center. Historians, librarians, graduate, doctoral or post-doctoral students as well as independent scholars are welcome to apply, and the resident scholars do a talk about their research topic at the conclusion of their residency.
According to Dr. Benac, the timber industry occupies a near-incomparable place in the heritage of Oregon, and no other industry can make a stronger claim to the state’s development. Few other states tie their economic and cultural development to the industry in such a strong way. Despite this, the timber industry is glaringly absent in efforts to commemorate the history and heritage of this corner of the Pacific Northwest. The reasons are rooted in historical patterns and conflicts, the practice of nostalgia, the cultural role of heritage and contemporary economic factors.
This work sets out to explain the disconnect between the historical and ongoing significance of Oregon’s timber industry with its relative insignificance in contemporary commemorations. By investigating the history of a number of company-owned sawmill towns, the nuances of the industry come to light as do the ways that Oregonians commemorate and grapple with its relevance in shaping their lives, the identities of their communities and the history of the entire state. The timber towns of Bridal Veil, Gilchrist, Grand Ronde, Kinzua, Pondosa, Powers, Wendling, Westfir and Wheeler make up the core of the community studies portion of the manuscript, and Toledo, Valsetz and Vernonia serve as important additional cases for the ongoing interpretation of timber heritage.
Dr. Benac would like to add that:
I would like to thank the Oregon State University Libraries for supporting my work at this crucial juncture. As a public historian whose research revolves around the issue of place, I am drawn to investigations of how a distinct sense of place is created, interpreted and used. After several years of visits to repositories and communities in Oregon, I had enough material to formulate a theoretical analysis of these concepts for present and past timber communities in Oregon. But key elements eluded me. With a full month at my disposal, I have integrated large volumes of historical images and maps, primarily from the Gerald Williams Collection, that will be crucial in expanding my understanding of the cultural geographies of these communities. The time has also proven invaluable in allowing me to collect a series of oral histories and to visit some of the exhibitions of timber heritage that I was previously unable to schedule. With this new material, the research for my next manuscript is near complete.