Making the Desert Place: An Environmental History of a Desert Shrub from the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project examines the historical, environmental, and cultural trajectory of a common desert shrub, called the creosote bush/Larrea tridentata, revealing distinct and often contradictory ways in which the North American arid deserts have been experienced, shaped, and perceived. It examines the plant’s connection to the production of environmental knowledge within changing Indigenous, colonial, and 20th century epistemologies and value systems in the US-Mexico borderlands region over the long-term. Utilizing diverse historical and ethnographic sources as well as innovative oral history methods, this study reveals the connection between the olfactory sense and human attachments to place. Although major resource plants often receive the attention of large-scale historical studies, by shifting the focus to the creosote bush, this work argues that this non-commodified so-called ‘wild’ plant has co-created place through its cultural and eco-sensorial relationships with the people of the US-Mexico desert borderlands.