environment - The University of Tulsa


Race, land and the business of oil in Indian Territory

Since 2019, the Helmerich Center for American Research (HCAR) at Gilcrease Museum has hosted a postdoctoral fellow each year under the Duane H. King Postdoctoral Fellowship. This fellowship enables scholars across diverse fields to mine HCAR’s collection of over 100,000 rare books, maps, manuscripts and photographs as well as present at a works-in-progress seminar and teach courses at The University of Tulsa.

Man in blue shirt smiling
Mark Boxell

In 2021-22, HCAR is honored to host its third King fellow, Mark Boxell, Ph.D., an American West expert who earned a doctorate from the Department of History at the University of Oklahoma in 2020. Boxell’s interests revolve around the American West, with a particular focus on the region’s conjunction with oil and the environment, as well as the two fields’ intertwined histories.

Prior to arriving in Tulsa, Boxell spent his undergraduate years studying at The University of Evansville, where he first discovered his keen interest in environmental and western history. After graduating in 2014, Boxell migrated further west to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he went on to receive a master’s degree in history from Colorado State University. While there, he studied the environmental history of public lands in the west and wrote a thesis that examined the history of fossil-fueled transportation in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Race, land and oil

Black and white photo of a burning oil tank
A family poses in front of a burning oil tank near Healdton, OK, c. 1915.

Currently, Boxell is conducting research for a book on the interactions between race, land and the petroleum industry in the Mid-Continent oil region, particularly in Indian Territory/Oklahoma in the early 20th century. As part of this project, Boxell intends to further explore the allotment of the Five Tribes’ collective land base and its intersection with the production of oil. Additionally, Boxell is interested in understanding the growth of cities like Tulsa and the connections between white settlers and the petroleum industry. “Petroleum became central to white settlers’ identities and their growing institutions,” stated Boxell.

The collections related to oil and Oklahoma at HCAR, specifically the Jackson Barnett collection, especially appealed to Boxell’s scholarly goals. Barnett — a Muscogee man otherwise known as “The Richest Indian in the World” — and his family became embroiled in controversy over questions of inheritance surrounding Barnett’s tremendous oil wealth. “Barnett had been a member of Chitto Harjo’s group of separatist ‘full-blood’ and African Creeks,” said Boxell. “He attempted to rebel against white settlers and the federal government at the turn of the 20th century, and like a number of Muscogee individuals, his allotment in the Cushing area proved tremendously rich in oil.”

From fellow to professor

Black and white photo of a river and oil derricks
Oil derricks erected along the Cimarron River in Oklahoma, c. 1915. (Source: U.S. Geological Survey)

As part of his King fellowship, Boxell has had the opportunity to teach a couple of courses at TU related to his field. In the fall, Boxell taught a graduate course in the Museum Science and Management program called “Racial Violence and Public Memory.” Students examined the history of racial violence and studied how such instances are subsequently commemorated and/or whitewashed in their respective societies. “We often discussed the Tulsa Race Massacre,” stated Boxell, “and how the effort to spread awareness of these instances of violence has required a lot of labor from the affected communities.” Boxell gave the Eddie Faye Gates Collection as an example of this; specifically, the oral histories passed down from survivors recounting the role that oil played in Tulsa leading up to the massacre.

This spring, Boxell is teaching an undergraduate course for the Department of History titled “American Environmental History.” An introduction to the field at large, this course examines the ways that people have interacted with the natural world over time and how the natural world has responded and shaped societies, cultures and ideas.

After his fellowship at HCAR concludes, Boxell will be taking with him the knowledge and experience he has gained to The University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he will be an assistant professor of American and environmental history.

The Helmerich Center for American Research is open to visiting faculty, students and scholars from all over the world. Consider checking out HCAR for all your American history and culture explorations!

TU Law faculty member part of team awarded major NSF grant

The University of Tulsa College of Law’s Warigia Bowman is a widely published expert on public policy, infrastructure, water and energy. Bowman is, therefore, a natural fit for the team of 34 interdisciplinary researchers recently awarded a $20 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, administered by the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

The focus of this five-year award is the development and testing of science-based solutions for complex problems at the intersection of land use, water availability and infrastructure in Oklahoma. Bowman is a sub-principal investigator and the only member from TU. She is also the College of Law’s first recipient of an NSF grant.

Professor Warigia Bowman seated at a library table with a book and a laptop computer
Professor Warigia Bowman

“On behalf of the entire TU Law community, I commend Warigia Bowman for contributing to this vital research endeavor,” said Dean Lyn Entzeroth. “She brings valuable expertise in both public policy and groundwater, as well as an understanding of the regulatory issues facing both water and renewable energy to the grant team.”

At the intersection of science and society

“Professor Bowman has academic expertise concerning the interface between science and society, and practical background in stakeholder participation and engagement,” remarked Hank Jenkins-Smith, a co-lead researcher on the grant and a public policy professor at the University of Oklahoma. “Both of these will be at the heart of the EPSCoR project. We are very pleased that she has agreed to be a part of our research team.”

“This project is novel in both its design and vision,” explained Bowman. “It creates a social science-led, multidisciplinary collaboration among social, physical, biological, engineering and computational scientists that aims to provide socially sustainable solutions to emerging problems caused, in part, by changing weather patterns, gaps in sustainable energy infrastructure and declining water supplies.”

Wide-ranging goals

Joining Bowman on this NSF-funded project are researchers from Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Langston University, East Central University and the Noble Research Institute. The group anticipates accomplishing several objectives:

  • Education and workplace development as well as the creation of a resilience model that can guide Oklahoma stakeholders
  • Broadening of participation in STEM by women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities and first-generation college students
  • Enhanced STEM training for K-12 teachers as well as non-traditional STEM educators, including 4-H and Oklahoma museums
  • Enhancements in K-12 student STEM education, such as a Native American student STEM competition and teacher conference, and the creation of a Tinkerfest at the Science Museum of Oklahoma
  • Expansion of Oklahoma’s Citizen Science Network
  • Support for higher education faculty and students involved in STEM

Bowman’s participation on the grant will also contribute to her personal research agenda. In addition, it will support training of her graduate research assistants at TU Law on projects focusing on risks posed by declines in state groundwater storage. Bowman and her research assistants also plan to study threats and opportunities posed by renewable energy to Oklahoma communities.

Earning your JD at TU Law will bring you in contact with faculty members at the forefront of their fields, such as Warigia Bowman, who are both excellent teachers as well as scholars. Learn about this vibrant, welcoming community.