Three Questions with Scot McFarlane

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Three Questions is an initiative to share the value that our faculty, students, and others in the UNT community derive from using The Portal to Texas History at UNT Libraries.

1. How important are Unique Collections in your teaching, learning or research?

The Portal represents the single most important source for my dissertation. In my research database I currently have over five-hundred different sets of documents and clippings that I have found on the Portal, and I am still finding more relevant information! Likewise, the Portal should be a great teaching resource at all level of education from high school to graduate study: its vast collections make it possible to assign a research paper and have students do focused searches on any aspect of Texas history. You are not simply sending students out to get lost “googling” things, the Portal is a much more effective starting point. The fact that the Portal is a free database means that no matter where I am researching or teaching that I will be able to depend on it throughout my career.

2. How have Unique Collections changed the way you approach your research, teaching or learning?

The Portal has made it possible for me to do the research necessary to cover the time and space that I have proposed for my dissertation on Trinity River in the 19th and 20th century. My geographic focus is at once narrow and broad, I am only interested in places within ten miles of the river, but of course the Trinity cuts across the entire state of Texas. The Portal allows me to explore this particular swath of the state’s history—mainly I can use the keyword functions while also reviewing sources tagged by county. At this point I have visited about fifty different archives spread throughout Texas and the rest of the United States, and all of that travel is constrained by both money and time. In contrast, I have been able to do sustained research on the Portal from any location. Knowing that my research on the Portal has been as comprehensive as possible has given me the confidence to start writing.

3. What do you want others to know about your research, teaching or learning?

Though North Texas and East Texas may appear to be two very different places, the history of the Trinity River shows how these two worlds are connected, both physically and politically. While it was North Texas boosters who wanted to canalize and destroy the Trinity River in the middle of the twentieth-century, they relied on an array of local politicians and elites all along the river. Similarly, in 1973 when the plans to canalize were put to a vote in all of the Trinity River counties it was a coalition of people in both East Texas and North Texas who defeated the much better funded canal proponents. Rural people are rarely labeled as environmentalists but, like many of the East Texans in the history of the Trinity River, they both understand and care deeply about the landscape they call home.

Scot McFarlane grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, and Palestine, Texas near the Trinity River. Currently a Ph.D. Candidate at Columbia University, his work has appeared in The Journal of Southern History and Environmental History. At Columbia, Scot has helped teach Mexican History, the History of the South, the History of New York, and is currently drafting a syllabus for a seminar on the history of rivers in North America. Prior to moving to NYC, Scot taught writing and history at high schools in the Willamette River Valley of Oregon. You can follow his research on his blog.