Utah State University history professor Colleen O’Neill has been awarded the 2006 Gaspar Perez de Villagra Award for her book, Working the Navajo Way: Labor and Culture in the Twentieth Century.
This distinction, awarded by the Historical Society of New Mexico, recognizes an outstanding publication by an individual and contributions to the field of history and historic preservation.
In her book, O’Neill focuses on the period between the 1930s and the 1970s, a time when Navajos saw a dramatic transformation of their economy. O’Neill explains that Navajo cultural values were flexible enough to accommodate economic change, and she challenges the conventional notion that the introduction of market capitalism necessarily leads to the destruction of native cultural values.
O’Neill combines her interests in labor, gender and American Indian history in her writing. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including the Walter Rundell Graduate Student Award from the Western History Association in 1994, and the Gilberto Espinosa Prize for the best article published in 1999 in the New Mexico Historical Review.
“History helps us appreciate our own power to influence our environments,” said O’Neill. “Politics, culture and economies are not simply preordained or set in stone, ordinary people have created history and their individual and collective actions shaped the past.”
O’Neill teaches graduate courses in American Indian history and the history of the U.S. West, and an undergraduate class in the U.S. West. She said she looks forward to teaching a special topics class on Gender and the American West next spring.
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