Dr. James Vlasich, Professor of History at Southern Utah University, has just had his second book published. Moreover, it is a book being considered as a vanguard piece on the subject covered.
Pueblo Indian Agriculture, Vlasich reveals, has been 30 years in the making. “In essence, this is my career you’re holding in your hands,” he says humbly.
Vlasich submits and supports in this book, that agriculture, and the Pueblos’ development of it, are what distinguish this tribe from others. Agriculture defined the Pueblo throughout their history. It became a symbol for their culture in much the same way the buffalo identified the Plains Indians. “The practice of irrigational agriculture has always set the Pueblo Indians apart from other native groups of New Mexico, and really the whole gamut of the Native American population in North America,” Vlasich states.
While the Pueblo certainly faced daunting challenges, Vlasich’s book demonstrates how they took matters into their own hands and, with the help of some concerned non-Indians, managed to hold onto an agricultural program that stretches back to a time before European arrival to the western world.
“For centuries, farming has been the foundation of the economy of all 19 Pueblo Indian groups and their ancestors,” he continues. It led to their theocratic system of government to control water and land use, and to a complex ceremonial religion designed to ensure a bountiful harvest.”
Early explorers marveled at the Pueblos’ sophisticated irrigation systems and crop production. Their agricultural practices facilitated industry, stability, prosperity, and technology. “Even their housing was sophisticated!” Vlasich exclaims. “Their adobes were multi-level. They had established homes because they were a non-nomadic people as a result of their involved farming and irrigation infrastructure.”
Vlasich traces Pueblo agriculture from the Spanish Entrada in the 16th century to the 21st century. The only documented history of the Pueblos, spanning four centuries, Vlasich’s book is being regarded as a groundbreaking history of the Pueblos. About 40,000 Pueblos reside today in New Mexico. Pueblo Indian Agriculture was published by the University of New Mexico Press.
“I always knew this was a good story,” Vlasich beams. His interest in the story was first aroused in the early 70s while attending Ft. Lewis College in Durango, CO, to earn his bachelor’s degree in Southwest studies. Many of his classmates were Pueblo Indians. Over the last three decades, Vlasich has conducted extensive research on the Pueblo culture. Pueblo Indian Agriculture has 44 pages of footnotes! “It’s my doctoral dissertation, and then some, 25 years later!” Vlasich declares. He obtained his master’s and doctorate degrees in history from the University of Utah.
In his writing of this book, Vlasich worked with the Southern Pueblo Agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Culture Center at the Petroglyph National Monument, and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center—all in Albuquerque. He also spent considerable time at the Federal Records Center in Denver, as well as the Northern Pueblo Agency and the Will Wright Indian Museum, both in Sante Fe. Indeed he had to take a few sabbaticals to add chapters, two of which have already been published by the elite journal, the New Mexico Historical Review.
Vlasich has been teaching history of the Southwest, American Indian studies and sports history at SUU for 24 years. This Fall, he will give the Distinguished Faculty Lecture on the subject of Pueblo Indian Agriculture. Details of book signings are forthcoming.
Other books by Vlasich include: “A Legend for the Legendary: The Origin of the Baseball Hall of Fame”; and, forthcoming this Fall “Sports in American Culture.”
Dr. Vlasich is available for interviews, speaking and consulting. If you’d like to book him for one of your events, call the SUU Meeting of the Minds coordinator, Renee Ballenger, at 435.586.1997, or go to http://www.suu.edu/ad/pr/experts/