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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Historian Hal K. Rothman, Author of Carlsbad Caverns/Guadalupe Mountains History Resource Study, Passes Away

Professor Hal K. Rothman, the formerChair of the History Department at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Nevada and a highly respected historian of Western History and of National Park Service History, passed away on Sunday, February 25, 2007 at the age of 48. He suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The magnitude of his lost to the study of Western history, as well as his lost of an outstanding human being, is impossible to measure

In 1996, Carlsbad Caverns awarded a contract for $66,000 to Professor Rothmanto write a Historic Resource Study on Carlsbad Caverns and our sister park Guadalupe Mountains. The official name of the study by Professor Rothman and his Research Assistant, Daniel Holder, was A Historic Resource Study of Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains and the Surrounding Areas. The book title was A Promise Beheld and the Limits of Place.

Through the advocacy of CAVE Cultural Resources and the efforts of CAVE Public Information Officer Bridget Litten and NPS History Webmaster Harry Butowsky (whose gathering and posting on the Internet, through contracts, of NPS history resources through the years has been phenomenal), the book was put on our CAVE Web Page at:A Promise Beheld and the Limits of Place

Promise Beheld and the Limits of Place is an excellent work on the two parks, the context of southeastern New Mexico history dating back to the Permian period in geology and later the prehistoric period of Native Americans. It also includes Spanish exploration and religious conversion efforts targeting Native Americans beginning in the 1500s and later activities of Native Americans with each other, with Mexicans and Anglo settlers, and with the U.S. Military. Finally, the book treats the coming of technology to the area right into the current times, highlighting the effects of the National Park Service, locally and nationally.

Personally, I believe that because this book is so well done by such an acclaimed author of national park and national monument topics, because it deserves wider circulation, because the NPS staff of this and other NPS areas could benefit from having “published” copies of this book, because the NPS has already paid $66,000 for it, and because it could fill a serious gap on the shelves of both the CAVE and GUMO bookstores, it should be published as economically as possible under the auspices of the Carlsbad Caverns Guadalupe Mountains Association as a sales item.

The sales availability of Rothman’s book in the two park bookstores would help the visitors wanting a deeper understanding of the park stories to find it.

When we proposed this publication project several years ago, the National Park Service was reportedly negotiating a newer and better way to publish such histories, perhaps using the regulations-laden Government Printing Office. Nothing ever materialized from this mostly hush-hush “expectation” of more efficient policies to come, which for whatever reason, never made it, as far as I remember.

Finally, Professor Rothman, who I once saw speak at a history conference, was an enthusiastic, energetic, and highly interesting speaker. He spoke from the heart with passion and all he researched, wrote, and presented (as others have attested), was superior for his passion and his will to be the best historian that he could be.

Bob Hoff



Sad News
Hal Rothman, Western Writer and Historian, Dies at 48

By Courtney Lowery, 2-25-07

Hal K. Rothman, the acclaimed Western historian, writer and former chair of the Univerity of Nevada-Las Vegas history department died Sunday night after a year and a half battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Hal, who was widely considered one of the nation’s experts on the New West, tourism and post-industrial economies, wrote here at NewWest.Net about what he called “a hodgepodge of urban issues, environmental critique, assaults on federal agencies and their tormentors, and a few other things.”

Hal’s voice was one to be reckoned with. He wrote about water shortages, fire policy, public land politics and growth with the context only a dedicated historian could. He was unfailingly direct and sure of his words, which for this writer in particular, was a lesson in self-confidence and a testament to the knowledge and research it takes to truly dissect an issue with clarity and depth.

He had a knack for making even the most academic stories human and real and I think that’s why his writings—here and elsewhere (he wrote extensively for High Country News and the Las Vegas Sun)—resonated with such a force. He thoroughly enjoyed making people think past old ideas and delighted in watching people chime in on his columns in comment threads.

When Hal first approached me to write for New West, we were just beginning and didn’t have the the kind of money to pay him what his writing was worth. But, he took a gamble to support a new startup he believed in and to get more of his important work to the masses. Even when he got sick, he pushed me to publish more of his work. He wrote any way he could and let me know, in no uncertain terms, that his work was worthy and wanted eyes. He was right—on both accounts—and I’m only sorry we didn’t get a chance to publish more of his work.

He and his voice will be truly missed.

New West

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