→Patricia Limerick and Donald Worster
Historians like Patricia Limerick and Donald Worster also pursued themes of continuity in the West, although not through exclusive focus on the social history of underrepresented, minority groups. Instead, these historians of the New West revitalized the field by connecting their analysis of the West to the lives and interactions of the diverse inhabitants, and the economic and social consequences of the western geography and extreme environment. With these approaches they were able to directly contribute to the understanding of the Southwest, by establishing frameworks that connected an understanding of the West and its subregions to the interrogation of the history of the people that lived there and the events and conditions they experienced.
Instead of viewing the region of the West only in relation to the course of white settlement, Patricia Limerick rejected Turner’s thesis and defined the West as a geographic location, not an idea, in her 1987 ground-breaking work <I>Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West</I>.<ref>Patricia Limerick, Legacy of Conquest : The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987).</ref> Her decision to define the West as a region freed the study of the West from the “conceptual fog” that she determined prevented Western historians from engaging in relevant interpretation and debate.<ref>Limerick, pg 24.</ref> This allowed her to integrate Chicano, or Mexican-American, history, and the work of social historians like Camarillo, into a larger narrative of conquest and continuity.
Limerick focused on the variety and interactions of western inhabitants by seeing the west as a meeting ground of different groups of people. Limerick recognized that the Southwest was a contested borderland and a diverse common ground. In Limerick’s book, the conquest of the Southwest, so often seen from the perspectives of the victors in western narratives, was reoriented and made to show the experiences of the people living in the contested area and subjected to the “Anglo-American talent to change overnight from being intruders to being legitimate residents and, conversely to turn the natives into “foreigners.”<ref>Limerick, pg 239.</ref> By weaving the biographies and social histories into a synthesis treatment of the American West, Limerick was able to build on the historiographical innovations of the 1960s and 1970s, but she also helped redefine the field of Western history and redirect it in ways that contributed to the understanding of the Southwest.
A couple of years before Patricia Limerick published Legacy of Conquest, Donald Worster established continuity and conquest within Western history in his book, <I>Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity and the Growth of the American West</i>, by connecting the arid environment of the Southwest to the economic inequality and instrumentalism that developed in the region. Worster also rejected Turner’s frontier thesis, and like Limerick chose to define the perspective of his work according to the reality of the land itself, not the general direction of the movement of white settlement. He, however, focused his analysis of the region on the way the technological advances in irrigation and riparian manipulation arose in response to the arid conditions of the Southwest. He explained how the distinct demands of arid environments historically resulted in the development of “hydraulic societies,” but that the domination of nature in the arid regions of the American West went further than previous irrigation-based empires.<ref>Donald Worster, <I>Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity and the Growth of the American West</I> (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), pg7.</ref>
Pursuing a policy of “total use for greater wealth,” an alliance of capitalists, politicians and regulators constructed an economic and political structure that favored the accumulation of wealth, property and power in the hands of relatively few people.<ref>Worster, pg 262.</ref> Worster warned of the anti-democratic and ultimately anti-life implications of the Capitalist State, and urged his readers to accommodate nature instead of subduing it. Through his analysis of the powerful economic structures that enabled the accumulation of capital, Worster also exposed the social and economic constraints experienced by the inhabitants of the Southwest. He not only highlighted the importance of the region, and advocated wise stewardship of nature, but also recommended a re-examination of nature’s relationship to human history.
In 1994, work on the American West was published in The Oxford History of the American West, and the wealth and diversity of historical studies brought together in the book illustrate the multiple subjects, perspectives and processes involved in western history.<ref>Clyde Milner, ed., <I>The Oxford History of
Western History</I> (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).</ref> The complex history of the Southwest was featured within the Heritage section, and the article by David Weber, The Spanish-Mexican Rim, describes the Spanish influence on the region. Weber explored the interaction between native Southwesterners and Spanish, and the role that the northern portion of the Spanish American empire played in the international competitions between Spain and France. Weber followed the story through the emergence of the Mexican Empire in 1821, and its subsequent decades as a republic, and rejected the earlier interpretations that “dismissed the long Spanish-Mexican tenure in the region as a time of despotism, religious intolerance, and economic stagnation,”<ref> David Weber, “The Spanish-Mexican Rim,” <I>The Oxford History of Western History</I>, pg 73.</ref> He instead integrated the Spanish heritage of the Southwest into an analysis of the West, reminding his readers of the significance of the continuity of the history of the region. Outside of the artificial constraints of the modern boundaries of nation-states, Weber conducted an analysis that connected the Spanish-Mexican heritage to Native American and colonial history.