Skip to main content
Western Colorado's Selective University

Lectureship and Scholarships


The Aspinall Lectureship in History and Political Science has developed into a significant competition with numerous applicants recognized as national authorities in their fields.

It is with pleasure that the Foundation, with Colorado Mesa University, is able to sponsor a free lecture to the public.

2016 Aspinall Lecturer

Peter J. Blodgett

A New Englander by birth and upbringing, Peter Blodgett  received his bachelor’s degree in American history from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and master’s and doctoral degrees from Yale University. Since joining the Huntington Library’s Manuscripts Department in 1985, he has been responsible for the acquisition, processing, exhibition and reference service of the library’s rare original documents concerning the history of the trans-Mississippi West across the past two centuries. The collections within his charge include materials that document the economic, social and political development of the West as well as the encounters of indigenous and immigrant peoples throughout the region. During his service at the Huntington, he has assisted hundreds of researchers in successfully consulting the Library’s holdings and has overseen the acquisition and processing of dozens of collections of historical records. Active in a variety of professional organizations including the Society of California Archivists, the Society of American Archivists and the Western History Association, he has spoken and written widely on national parks, tourism and recreation as well as the management of manuscripts and archives. Among his publications are Motoring West: Volume 1 Automobile Pioneers, 1900-1909 (University of Oklahoma Press, 2015), “Worlds of Wonder and Ambition: Gold Rush California and the Culture of Mining Bonanzas in the North American West” in A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West, edited by Nicholas Witschi (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), “Defining Uncle Sam’s Playgrounds: Railroad Advertising and the National Parks, 1917-1941” in Historical Geography, Vol. 35 (April 2008), “Using Our Faculties: Collecting the Papers of Western Historians at the Huntington Library” in The Western Historical Quarterly, Vol. 34, no. 4 (Winter 2003) and Land of Golden Dreams: California in the Gold Rush Decade 1848-1858 (Huntington Library Press, 1999). He has also organized various exhibitions at the Huntington Library, most recently “Visions of Empire: The Quest for a Railroad across America, 1840-1880,” April 21, 2012 to July 23, 2012.  Between 2008 and 2014, he served as Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association and he currently holds the position of the H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library.  

2016 Lecture

“Defining America’s Playgrounds:  Railroads and the Promotion of Tourism in the Rocky Mountain West, 1915-1945”  

As America’s railroads spread ever more widely across the trans-Mississippi West at the end of the nineteenth century, various lines devoted time, energy and political capital to promoting the creation of national parks as a means of attracting visitors to the region who would travel by train.  The Great Northern Railroad, for example, aggressively promoted the legislation to create Glacier National Park and the Southern Pacific Railroad took a special interest in Yosemite.  Similarly, as ranch owners in different parts of the West began to turn their properties into “dude ranches” to attract paying guests, railroads such as the Burlington Route, the Northern Pacific and the Union Pacific collaborated closely with them, promoting them in railroad-sponsored brochures and pamphlets and supporting the creation of industry-wide organizations such as the Dude Ranchers’ Association.  Moreover, although railroads encouraged potential tourists to visit the West by train, by the early twentieth century, they often relied upon the automobile once the tourists reached their destinations.  The Santa Fe Railroad sponsored motor tours in Arizona and New Mexico under the title of “Indian Detour” and most western railroads such as the Union Pacific or the Burlington Route arranged for motor car or motor bus excursions to scenic or historic wonders where their tracks did not run (such as within most national park boundaries).  This richly illustrated slide lecture will highlight the efforts of America’s great railroad enterprises to promote leisure travel and will demonstrate how those efforts evolved over time.

April 14, 2016, 7pm
University Center South Ballroom

Aspinall Course

SOCI 396: “Mobility and Modernity: Automobiles, Tourists and the Early Twentieth-Century West”

This course will whisk you back to the earliest days of the motor car in America and then explore the impact of this explosive new technology upon American life and leisure, with a particular focus upon the trans-Mississippi West.  Through course readings, students will have the chance to experience the perils and possibilities of pioneering auto travel and to discover the stunning transformations wrought by advancing auto mobility during the first half of the twentieth century as Americans took to the road with great abandon.

March 28-APRIL 15, 2016
MWF 3:00-4:30

CRN: 42380


Each year Colorado Mesa University students with 3.0 GPA or higher are interviewed by the Aspinall Foundation Board for scholarships. At present, the Wayne N. Aspinall Award is $7,000. The Charles Traylor Award is $6,000. In addition, three Aspinall Scholarships are awarded for $3,000 each and one at $4,000. There are normally 12-16 qualified applicants.