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Ross H. Frank

Associate Professor



Ph.D., History - University of California, Berkeley, 1992.
M.A., Modern History - Oxford University, Merton College, 1986
M.A., History - University of California, Berkeley, 1985.
B.A., History - Oxford University, Merton College, 1983.
B.A., History - Yale College, 1980.

Professor Frank received his B.A. degree in History in 1980 from Yale College. He went on to complete a second B.A. in History where he was awarded First Class Honours at Merton College, Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. In 1983 he entered the History Ph.D. program at the University of California, Berkeley in 1983, receiving his doctorate in 1992.

Dr. Frank began teaching in 1991 as the Landmarks Assistant Professor of History at the American University in Washington, D.C., on a two-year joint appointment shared with the National Museum of American History. At the Smithsonian he worked as a consulting historian for the American Encounters exhibition. He began his appointment at the University of California, San Diego in 1992 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies.

Areas of Research

Ross Frank's areas of research extend from Spanish villages and Indian pueblos in the upper Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico, through the Great Plains, and to the Great Lakes - Eastern Woodlands regions. Much of his work focuses on comparative modes of cultural change among European and Native American groups during 1750 - 1850, a pivotal period in the history of greater North America (including Canada, the U.S., and Mexico).

His first book, From Settler to Citizen: New Mexican Economic Development and the Creation of Vecino Society, 1750 - 1820. (Berekely: University of California Press, 2000) breaks new ground in documenting rapid growth in the New Mexican economy from the 1780's until about 1810. In addition, this work overturns previous views of ethnic relations in New Mexico by analyzing the different cultural impacts that economic growth had on Spanish settler and Pueblo Indian communities, and the resulting changes their economic and social interactions. The book uses pueblo Indian pottery, Pueblo and Spanish blankets, and Spanish religious images (santos) as important sources of information that link economic to social change during the last decades of New Mexico under Spanish government. The book concludes that greater economic opportunity created an innovative and dominant Spanish vecino (citizen) population that derived their cultural identity in part through the economic and social subordination of the Pueblo Indians.

Other research projects include

  • The Tribal Digital Village:  Technology, Sovereignty, and Collaboration in Indian Southern California: In February 2001, Professor Frank in collaboration with the Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association (SCTCA) received, a Hewlett-Packard Philanthropy awarded a $5 million grant over 3 years to build a "Digital Village", a collaborative project to bring computer technology and services to serve a vision for the future developed within this community made up of 18 Indian nations. Central to the appeal of the vision to tribal members and Hewlett-Packard was the recognition of the historical connection between the current patchwork of reservation lands, and the larger goals of the Tribal Digital Village.  Just as these historical processes fractured family lineages that once moved widely over the region while functioning as coherent distributed Kumeyaay, Luiseño, Cupeño, and Cahuilla communities, the Tribal Digital Village application proposed to use computer technologies to create a distributed digital community that mirrors and amplifies the community and kinship networks that have historically sustained these tribal communities.  This project forms the research site for Professor Frank's current book project, based on community voices expressed in a number of forms, interviews, and participant observation.
  • Plains Indian Ledger Art Digital Publishing Project: This project represents a cooperative effort to publish scholarly electronic editions of important examples of nineteenth century Plains Indian drawing done on paper. This genre, often called Ledger Art, formed a transitional genre of Plains Indian artistry corresponding to the forced reduction of Plains tribes to government reservations, roughly between 1860 and 1900. Due to the destruction of the buffalo herds and other game animals of the Great Plains by Anglo-Americans after the Civil War, painting on buffalo hide gave way to works on paper, muslin, canvas, and occasionally commercially prepared cow or buffalo hides.  A comprehensive digital database, presentation, and scholarly web site that allows users to undertake state-of-the-art research on Plains Indian ledger art resides at:
  • Pueblo Indian Cultural Change During the 19th Century: This project incorporates an analysis of the 1000s of objects of material culture collected by the Bureau of American Ethnology's Stevenson Expedition and other early projects to understand the ways in which the Pueblos of the Río Grande Valley region in New Mexico controlled interaction with Spanish-Mexican and Euro-American communities from about 1810 through the 1880s.

Areas of Concentration

  • Pueblo Indian change and adaptation during the late Spanish colonial period (1750-1821), and under Mexican and early American Territorial rule (1821-1846 and 1846-1880, respectively).
  • Historical change in religious organization and cosmology among the Great Lakes and Northern Plains peoples as a system regulating patterns of resistance and accommodation to European influence, 1750 to 1850.
  • Plains Indian painting and ledger art, 1860-1900.
  • Spanish, Pueblo, and Southern Plains cultural transmission in the southwest, 1700-1820.
  • Social and economic history of northern Mexico during the late colonial period.