AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
Lance R. Blyth is a command historian at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado and has been a member since 2011.
Fields of interest: 18th- and 19th-century global pastoral borderlands, conflict, violence.
When did you first develop an interest in history?
I spent my formative years in Taos, New Mexico, where history seemed to be far more an “is” than a “was.” Visiting Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo, the Plaza of the Governors in Santa Fe, Fort Union, or seeing Santa Fe Trail ruts and Spanish inscriptions on El Morro made the past far more concrete to me than the present at a very young age.
What projects are you currently working on?
In my day job I am preparing the history of NORAD and US Northern Command from December 2014 to May 2016, covering the command tenure of Admiral William Gortney. The roughly 250-page history focuses on how the commands executed their missions of aerospace warning and control, maritime warning, homeland defense, defense support of civil authorities, and theater security cooperation. Somewhat uniquely, I build an archive by keeping an electronic copy of every source cited in the history, along with amplifying documents. All this will someday be declassified and available for future researchers.
On the academic side, I am currently participating in an International Symposium on Violence in the US-Mexican Borderlands co-sponsored by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University and the Instituto Mora of Mexico City. My contribution, to be published in the resulting edited volume, studies how cattle theft led to violence in the 1860s and 1870s.
I am also working at a manuscript (slowly as I do have a day job) currently entitled “The Navajo-New Mexico War.” I am looking at how the pastoral imperatives for land, labor, and livestock created and sustained the conflict between Navajos and New Mexicans from roughly 1800 to 1868. This may lead to a follow-on project comparing pastoral conflict in 18th- and 19th-century borderlands in New Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, the Caucuses, and Australia.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
I was trained as a historian of colonial Latin American focusing on ethnicity, gender, and society in northern Mexico. But, having taken a job beyond academia without the demands of tenure, I chose to study issues of violence and conflict that had long interested me, resulting in my first book Chiricahua and Janos: Communities of Violence in the Southwestern Borderlands, 1680-1880 (Nebraska, 2012).
Further, since I am employed outside of the academy, I have no access to summers off, sabbaticals, grants, fellowships, or even a research library (all of which the current dominant mode of faculty-based historical production assumes). So, I concentrate my work in the Southwestern U.S. and Northern Mexico where I am familiar with the sources and getting to collections does not take too much time or expense. So my interests have evolved to borderlands.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I have been a great fan of Peter Turchin’s blog Cliodynamica (http://peterturchin.com/blog/). While I am uncertain history can “become an analytical, predictive science,” I do find his macro approach, focusing on similar dynamics across time and place, to be refreshing and thought-provoking.
What do you value most about the history profession?
What I most value about the history profession is that it values the work of doing history: conceiving a research question, reading the secondary literature, researching in archival collections (broadly defined), analyzing the results, and writing, always writing.
Why have you continued to be a member of the AHA?
After a hiatus following graduation I rejoined the AHA in 2011 after having reached out to Tony Grafton and Jim Grossman over their “No More Plan B” essay. (I am the historian they quote at the start of the “Plan C” essay). Over the last 5+ years I have watched the AHA move non-faculty career issues from anecdote to data, from peripheral to panels at annual meetings, and from embarrassment to engagement by some the best historians in our profession. In support and recognition of this achievement, I continue as a member of the AHA.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
No favorite anecdote, but I do wish to encourage everyone to attend the 2017 meeting in Denver, the first in the Rocky Mountain West. Perhaps we can make some anecdotes then!
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
Well, I do live in Colorado, so outdoor pursuits top the list—telemark skiing both resort and backcountry, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking—pretty much anything that gets me into the mountains, especially with my wife and dog.