Arizona Centennial: “Arizona: A History

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A revised comprehensive book on Arizona History is being released on the state’s birthday. “Arizona: A History,” is a scholarly work on the Grand Canyon state’s history by Dr. Thomas Sheridan, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. Dr. Sheridan will talk about his latest book.

Ted Simons: Arizona's rich and complicated history is explored in a recently released book titled "Arizona: A History." The book is written by our next guest, U of A anthropology professor, Dr. Thomas Sheridan.

Thomas Sheridan: Nice to be here, Ted.

Ted Simons: This is an interesting book, this is a revised edition. When did you first write this?

Thomas Sheridan: The first edition came out in 1995. So there's been about 17 years in between.

Ted Simons: I'm guessing that the revised edition covers a lot of ground. When you wrote it in '95, when you revised it recently, your views of writing "Arizona: A History," Your views of Arizona history? Change at all?

Thomas Sheridan: Not really. I added more information on the border, more information on Mexican issues, and also a lot more information on water, because that's really fundamental to our history.

Ted Simons: Talk about the history of water rights and water usage in Arizona.

Thomas Sheridan: Well, we live in an arid land, so water is the critical resource. And Arizona history has been one long struggle to get access to that resource. And it will continue. I think the interesting thing about the 21st century is that there's no more -- there's no pot of water at the end of our rainbow anymore. The Central Arizona Project was the last major infusion of water, and so now I think water politics are going to focus on how we distribute what we have already.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Your book is very comprehensive, it's really something you've covered so much ground. And when you talk about a history of Arizona, you're talking history. The book opens with woolly mammoth hunters in the area. Why did you decide to go prehistoric?

Thomas Sheridan: I think the distinction between history and prehistory is artificial. People have been living here at least 12,000 years. And I wanted to acknowledge that. The fact that it's been occupied for a long time, and Native Americans were here first.

Ted Simons: I got the idea that your book, and the way you see history, correct me if I'm wrong, as not necessarily linear. Fit and starts, booms and busts, these sorts of things.

Thomas Sheridan: Right.

Ted Simons: Correct?

Thomas Sheridan: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: Explain, if you would.

Thomas Sheridan: I think this idea that we're just progressing towards something, it doesn't always happen. Look at what's happened in the last 10 years. This is the second major real estate boom and bust that I've lived through in Arizona in my lifetime. And I've lived here since I was 3. So things are not always progressing in one direction.

Ted Simons: The role of the federal government in Arizona is addressed as well. Talk to us about that and why it seems to be something a lot of folks aren't aware of or don't want to think about.

Thomas Sheridan: We pride ourselves on our rugged individualism, but yet the federal government has been absolutely critical in Arizona history since it's become a part of the United States. First of all, the U.S. army was sent in to pacify the Apaches, and then secondly, private capital could stock the ranges, plant the cotton, mine the copper, but it could not dam Arizona's rivers. So farmers and later cities really had to turn to the federal government, and that's what the Salt River project and Roosevelt Dam was about.

Ted Simons: Has the attitude in Arizona toward the federal government, do you see it changing? Do you see it ebbing and flowing in terms of positive and negative over the years, over the centuries?

Thomas Sheridan: I think it's always been ambivalent. And I think in part that may reflect our dependency on the federal government. I work a lot with ranchers in the state. And most ranchers in Arizona are mosaics of land tenure, they may have a little bit of private land but they also have graze can allotments off and on federal lands. So there's this kind of love-hate relationship.

Ted Simons: When you're done with a book like this and you look back on it, all of your research, and there's so much research in this, what do you think we in reading the book, you in researching, what can we all learn from Arizona's history? Or is it so volatile, is it such a fast growing and changing state you just got to ride with it?

Thomas Sheridan: I think one thing, because we're kind of a transient society, people come and go, that makes history all the more important. We need to know what has shaped us and what will continue to shape us. And I think water is, you know, the big issue. Our water supply unless they can figure out how to desalinize the ocean, is not going to grow, and I think with climate change it will actually shrink. So there's going to be a lot of jockeying for water in the 21st century. And I think one of the most interesting things I realized when I did the revisions was that Native Americans are going to be real players in this game because of their water rights, in addition to casino revenues. So I think they've gone from being a marginalized population, but I think in the 21st century we're going -- they're going to have more economic and political power.

Ted Simons: If the world is flat, by Thomas Freedman's imagination, if the world really is flat, where is Arizona's place on it and how has that changed?

Thomas Sheridan: I think one thing we have to accept the fact that we live on the U.S.- Mexico border and rather than seeing that as a threat, I think we need to see it at an opportunity. I also think that recently we've had the worst assault on Mexican immigrants and Mexican society since early statehood. And I think we need to recognize these -- this bilingual population that's been such an important part of Arizona history, again, as an opportunity, not a threat. Because this is a global world, and if we position ourselves right, we stand at the gateway to Latin America and the Hispanic world. And that should be seen again as an economic and a cultural opportunity, not as something to be afraid of.

Ted Simons: Last question, about 30 seconds left here. In terms of researching the book, what did you target? What were you focused on, and did you find up having that as focused in the book?

Thomas Sheridan: I knew I had to write a new chapter on Arizona in the 21st century. And so I concentrated a lot on financial matters. My father was in the savings and loan industry. So I grew up in the old financial world in Arizona. So I've always been interested in that topic. And obviously it continues to play a huge role in modern Arizona history.

Ted Simons: It does indeed. The Keating Five and The Keating scandal is mentioned in your book. This is really a good read. Thank you for joining us. We do appreciate it.

Thomas Sheridan: My pleasure, Ted. Thank you.

Dr. Thomas Sheridan:Professor of Anthropology, University of Arizona;

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