The WHA benefits from the people who have been long-time, loyal members. Their service to the organization and contributions to the field have enhanced our understanding of the North American West. We do not take it lightly when we lose members, as these individuals were valuable to the western history community. This "In Memoriam" page is a space dedicated to the legacy of those we have lost--our friends, colleagues, mentors, teachers, scholars.
By Stephen Aron
The Western History Association has established the Louise Pubols Public History Fund in memory of Louise Pubols, who passed away in July. The Pubols Fund will provide financial assistance for public historians to attend the annual meeting of the WHA. It is appropriate that the fund be directed to this purpose, for Louise Pubols was a pre-eminent public historian, who by her example and her exertions increased the profile of public history within the WHA. It is also fitting that this tribute draws together the reminiscences of several of Louise’s friends and colleagues, because Louise, as an esteemed museum professional, understood that collaboration makes for better history – and better living.
Louise received her undergraduate degree from Brown University. She then completed an M.A. in public history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, before heading to the University of Wisconsin, where William Cronon chaired her doctoral committee. Following graduate school, Louise worked first at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles and then as Chief Curator of the History Department at the Oakland Museum of California.
Louise is probably best known to members of the Western History Association for her 2010 book, The Father of All: The de la Guerra Family, Power, and Patriarchy in Mexican California. The recipient of major prizes from the Clements Center for Southwest Studies and the Organization of American Historians, The Father of All demolished long-standing myths about pre-American California as a colorful, custom-bound world apart. In place of this fantasy past, The Father of All showed a family and a society caught up in, yet not wholly overcome by, the global economic and political developments of the first half of the nineteenth century. Its illuminating research, its absorbing writing, and its persuasive revision of California history ensure the book a long shelf life.
As with her publications and exhibitions, so, too, in her service to the WHA, was Louise, in Matthew Klingle’s words, “a fierceadvocate for sharing the best scholarship with a wide public audience.” That commitment marked her recent tenure on the Council of the WHA, as well as her stint as co-chair of the local arrangements committee for the 2011 meeting in Oakland. As her co-chair Rose Marie Beebe remembered, Louise talked her into the undertaking by likening the assignment to “organizing a giant wedding reception, except this one had tours!” Thanks to Louise’s “professionalism, attention to detail, and collaborative nature,” all of “the parts and pieces” that let conference-goers experience what the host site has to offer came “together seamlessly.”
“Louise inspired a lot of people in a lot of ways,” summarized Greg Smoak. “She was a historian,” whose “work illustrated how academic research and public practice are part of the same endeavor, and indeed, how each can inform the other and make it better.” To improve our western histories (and our Western History Association), Louise devoted herself to building bridges and sustaining conversations between academic and public historians.
What’s more, added Klingle, “she could make a damn fine cocktail to lubricate any social occasion.” That talent reached back at least to Louise’s graduate school days, where Shelby Balik recalled her “fabulous dinner and cocktail parties.” The “food and drinks were outstanding, but the hospitality was even better.” And so was the mentorship that Louise provided to students who followed her at UW-Madison and who shared her passion for Badger football and basketball teams.
Echoing the sentiments of many of Louise’s friends, Balik concluded that above all, we will remember “how Louise lived purposefully, fully, and bravely -- even as she faced great uncertainty over the course of her illness. In the past several years, she attended and presented at conferences, launched projects, married, traveled widely and adventurously with [her husband] Jay [Taylor], faithfully maintained friendships, and graced all who knew her with her characteristic sense of humor, honesty, generosity, and kindness. We will miss her.”
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