2014 Preston E. James Eminent Latin Americanist Career Award
Bill is a cultural ecologist, geoarchaeologist, and geographer whose work has long focused on water systems in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. In the last decade or so, however, he has traveled extensively across parts of Spain, Portugal and Morocco to understand older versions of water management systems. In Bill’s words he is “a hardware guy when it comes to irrigation,” and it is the physical landscape imprint that continues to hold his interest, his curiosity. Those intensely worked landscapes, their legacy, are the grist for his mill.
Bill’s contributions to Latin Americanist geography began with his 1979 dissertation that examined the archaeology of agriculture and settlement in the Valley of Sonora in northwestern Mexico. Building on this early work, Bill’s research interests have focused on irrigation, terracing, water management, runoff agriculture, ranching, and other aspects of agricultural landscapes. Irrigation and cultivated landscapes in Mexico have remained his major focus.
Small farmers and contemporary agricultural practices are another major focus. Bill’s now classic 2001 article “Learning to See the Impacts of Individuals” highlights how his scholarship has been informed by the expert knowledge of smallholders. Indeed, Bill’s keen observational skills are apparent in “Agricultural change as an incremental process” (Annals AAG, 1984), a kind of modest theory-building piece that remains in some ways under-appreciated for its continued insight and relevance. Or to put it more bluntly, most change is not revolutionary when it comes to landscapes and livelihoods.
Bill has contributed two books to Latin American scholarship: his first book published in 1988, Pre-Hispanic Occupance in the Valley of Sonora, Mexico, and later in 1990, Canal Irrigation in Prehistoric Mexico, which was reissued in Spanish. And his two other books on pre-Columbian agricultural landscapes, The Safford Valley Grids: Prehistoric Cultivation in the Southern Arizona Desert (Tucson: Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona 70, 2004), and the monumental Cultivated Landscapes of Native North America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) are clearly inflected with a lifetime of travel in Latin America but squarely focused on Mexico. All of these major works occupy a prominent place in the literature; but none more so, we would argue, than the massive Cultivated Landscapes volume. That work alone, rich with archival evidence and contemporary fieldwork observations, will continue to serve as a benchmark for archaeologists and the scholarship on Columbian consequences. More recently, Bill is producing an extensive database on Mexico’s aqueduct landscape, with an emphasis on which elements may (or may not) have crossed the Atlantic.
Finally, Bill’s contributions go beyond his own scholarship, as he has selflessly supervised the independent research of fourteen PhD dissertations, nine of which focused on topics in Latin America. Some of these graduate efforts were right in line with the kind of work that Bill himself would have done; others, tellingly, were further afield. The range of projects that he let us explore, adopt, and finally polish speaks to his intellectual range in supervising us. But it also reflects his ability to let the reigns go if we had a good idea, or to grab them if we were wandering too far afield.
For all this, Bill is fully deserving of the Preston James Award. We cannot imagine Latin Americanist landscape geography scholarship without his contributions. We cannot imagine CLAG without his long-term influence and presence.
-- Matthew Fry and Eric Perramond