When I landed in Denver, I immediately started looking for mountains. Theodore Roosevelt might have done the same thing, aiming to climb the highest peak with whatever fascinating people happened to be in the area. I can imagine the wide ranging conversations he probably had with the people who shared his hikes. From the Denver Airport, it’s not easy to see mountains, though. I squint really hard and make out some distant peaks. That adventure is not for this trip.
I traveled to Denver for research at the city’s main public library. In the downtown area, the library plays a vital function of providing information to some of the area’s most desperate citizens. Unlike the Huntington or the Newberry Library, people might enter the doors of the Denver Public Library to find vital information on how to get a job or on where they might find housing.
The Western History area of the DPL is located on the fifth floor. Whenever I go on a research trip, I prepare by reviewing whatever materials are available online, but as any researcher knows, sitting at a computer and reading finding aids is completely different from actually working through a physical collection. What sets the collections in Denver apart is the connection to place and the natural world of Colorado and the West. A number of executive orders from Roosevelt creating national bird reservations are found in the papers of Harry B. Crandell. Crandell was a true westerner engaged with the vital issues of the region. As director of wilderness reviews for the Wilderness Society, he focused on public lands management, energy, and how wilderness was defined and created. Materials from his collection and others at DPL will help show the influence of TR’s presidency on conservation issues.
When I go on a research trip, I’m not just visiting a library. I usually make time to connect with the place where I find myself. Sometimes that means going to an independent bookstore and studying regional titles. On other occasions it’s simply taking a walk through the city, or eating a dish that is unique to the location. In Denver, I had the opportunity to visit History Colorado, a dynamic historical center that celebrates the region’s history in vibrant displays. For the first time, I started seeing Colorado as not just high peaks. It’s also a region of plains, drought and, during the Dust Bowl, grasshopper plagues.
Travel always enriches – and often complicates – our understanding of a place. As we continue to seek out new materials for the Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library, I’m grateful for the opportunity to see and experience many of the same places Roosevelt traveled.