Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ferenc Szasz, RIP

The Albuquerque Journal's Winthrop Quigley reports this morning the death of Ferenc Szasz (usually pronounced "Frank Sazz"), a professor of intellectual and social history at UNM. I did not take a course from him in the early 1970s when I was at UNM, but he was one of the very few professors during those turbulent times that conservative and liberal students turned to for guidance on what were the legitimate possibilities, and limits, of dissent, given the traditions of our American creed. When the National Guard invades a campus and students get bayoneted even the crassest students realized we needed to turn to wisdom to better understand what was happening. Visually, he strode around campus with a rapid gait, often followed by three or four students asking questions after class, looking every bit the crazy professor until you looked at his face, which demanded the respect one accords an intellectual, steeped in history yet able to think for himself and make the past relevant.

My understanding of Northern New Mexico was greatly enhanced when I read a chapter he had written in a book edited by Richard Etulain about fifteen years ago. Szasz correctly identifies a new culture that invaded Northern New Mexico during the 1940s and has been there ever since: the scientific culture spearheaded by the Los Alamos labs. He walks you through changes in the political economy of the North after that, caused by the relatively high salaries earned by Los Alamos workers, who had enough money to buy folkloric art from Hispanic and Native American artisans, and whose purchases created a growing demand which ended up with Santa Fe chic. Cultural interaction between the scientists and locals thus created several feedback loops and had a much stronger effect on the original native cultures than one would have suspected.

No comments: