On the right, private collector Stephen Boulay and Travis Ross discuss the exhibit
at their first planning meeting
PhD Graduate Travis Ross co-curates award winning exhibition
Western History Association awards Autry Public History Prize to curators of Utah
August 23, 2018 - The Western History Association's Autry Public History Prize is
awarded annually to media exhibits, public programs, or written works that contribute
to a broader public reflection and appreciation of the past or serve as a model of
professional public history practice in the history of the North American West. This
year the award was given to the creators of the "Utah Drawn: An Exhibition of Rare
Maps" exhibit, including Travis Ross, History Department alum and PhD student. The
award consists of a $1,000 prize and a certificate to the award recipient. The prize
is made possible by the generous support of the Autry National Center.
"This exhibit began with the desire to build a public history and art exhibit around
a core collection of rare maps assembled by the local businessman Steve Boulay. On
their own, Steve’s collection told a visually compelling story about the cartographic
history of western North America, but especially of the region that became Utah",
says Ross. "Utah Drawn uses the familiar and visually-interesting form of the map—which
purports merely to tell the truth—to explore all the ways that ostensible facts like
place names and spacial relationships are actually perspectives determined by political
control, economic interests, and cultural assumptions."
Ross and his associates aimed to inform and educate visitors of the Capitol Building,
keeping in mind the different audiences that might encounter the exhibit. "We tried
to do some pretty high-level stuff while targeting the Capitol’s high volume of middle
school visitors. It might seem pretty abstract to argue that competing visions of
land use lead to fundamentally different ways of organizing and imagining landscapes.
Put that argument alongside two maps that juxtapose the stark difference between the
neat grid of a Mormon settlement and the seemingly haphazard streets of a mining town
where planners cared mostly about getting subterranean wealth out of the ground, and
that argument becomes much more concrete. So I think the exhibit helps to illustrate
abstract arguments made by historians and geographers, but it also asks visitors to question
the authority and neutrality of maps."