Jeff Nichols

Professor of History

Westminster College


Jeff Nichols is Professor of History at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, where he co-directs the Institute for Mountain Research. A former US Navy officer, he is the author of Prostitution, Polygamy, and Power: Salt Lake City, 1847–1918 (2002) and co-author of Playing With Shadows: Voices of Dissent in the Mormon West (2011).

Title: Revisiting Great Salt Lake Histories

Friday, May 11th, 10:30 AM

Abstract: The Great Salt Lake is an essential feeding and breeding ground for waterfowl. For Native Americans, the wetlands where fresh water meets saline provided vital food products. But with the settlement by Euroamericans in the nineteenth century, the lake seemed mostly a natural curiosity or recreation grounds. Thereafter, as its centrality to the identity of Utah diminished, it gradually became an overlooked and abused water body. The saline lake as a subject of historical inquiry has also been somewhat neglected. Some good histories place the lake in the regional context of the fur trade, overland migration, and government exploration. Dale L. Morgan’s The Great Salt Lake, published in 1946, brings the lake’s history into the twentieth century but is sorely dated. Gary Topping excerpted some of the best historical and literary writing about the lake in Great Salt Lake: An Anthology, published in 2002. New approaches and perspectives are beginning to build on previous narratives to reveal the environmental and cultural significance of the lake in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In particular, a special issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly dedicated to the lake’s “edges”—where water meets the land—combines the methods and tools of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to yield insights into an old theme: natural-human interaction in the saline environment.




Why We Care

  • Somewhere there should be a place for artists and tourists—if no one else is interested—to watch the gulls wheel into a flaming sunset and to ripple their hands in the smooth brine.

    George Dibble, "Deserted Site Remains Tourist Artist Mecca," Salt Lake Tribune, 1961