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ASU prof to co-host PBS series 'History Detectives'


November 30, 2009

Eduardo Obregón Pagán, an associate professor of history and American studies in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University’s West campus, has been signed as a permanent co-host for the popular PBS series "History Detectives." The Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History at ASU, Pagán made his debut as a guest host last summer, serving as the investigator on three stories.

Now, his name is permanently in lights.

“Professor Pagán is a great complement to our on-camera team," said series co-executive producer David Davis. “He brings a wealth of knowledge about the history of the American West, and the Southwest in particular.”

Pagán joins a field of veteran fact-finders who have hosted "History Detectives" for seven seasons: Wes Cowan, independent appraiser and auctioneer; Elyse Luray, independent appraiser and expert in art history; Gwendolyn Wright, professor of history and architecture at Columbia University; and Tukufu Zuberi, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The show is produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and LION Television.

Pagán is looking forward to bringing his "History Detectives" experience to the classroom at ASU.

“Much of historical research is done in isolation, or one-on-one,” said Pagán, who recently won a coveted Glyph Award from the Arizona Book Publishing Association for his book, “Historic Photos of Phoenix.” “There have been many times when I have worked with a specialist that I wished I had a camera present so I could capture the experience and share that experience with my classes. Working with 'History Detectives' allows me to do that.

“I regularly teach the history methods class that is required of all history majors, and being able to show stories gives my students a good sense of what it is like to do historical research.”

Pagán said he also can take classroom lesson to the PBS set.

“One of the things I love about working with the show is that the producers and staff have a very keen eye for everyday stories that connect with larger historical events, and that is a lot of what I do in teaching history – showing how ordinary people often in day-to-day events have a profound influence on history.

“So, working with PBS, to me, is much the same as working with a classroom, but on a larger scale.”

The associate professor grew up, as he puts it, “in the shadows of Sun Devil Stadium,” the ASU football team’s Tempe home field. He received his bachelor’s degree from ASU and a master’s from the University of Arizona before earning his M.A and Ph.D. from Princeton University in U.S. history. Before returning to ASU, Pagán served as an assistant dean of students at Princeton, a faculty member at Williams College and as a senior program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D.C.

As he considers the history he teaches and investigates, he has his favorite events – history he would like to have witnessed firsthand.

“If I had to pick an event, it would probably be the fall of Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Mexica (Aztec) empire,” he said. “Bernal Díaz del Castillo chronicled what it was like as a foot soldier in Cortez’s army in the conquest of New Spain, and I’ve often wondered what it was like to stand at the mountain pass gazing down on the Valley of Mexico at this previously undiscovered empire.

“At the same time, I’ve wondered what it was like for the citizens of the capital city to see these strange, bearded people from another land, wearing metal on their bodies and carrying strange weapons, riding in on strange animals.”

Locally, he also has a favorite.

“I also think about what it was like at the collapse of the ancient Pueblo (Aansazi) societies around the 1400s as changing weather patterns brought about decades of drought, political cohesion began to strain, new nomadic tribes began to compete for scarce resources, and the Southwest became a much more violent and harsh place to live in.”

At ASU’s West campus, Pagan teaches coursework in Chicano cultures of the Southwest, historical methods, the Hispanic Southwest, American politics and law, and Constitutional history of the United States.