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The Rural West Initiative

In 2009, the Bill Lane Center for the American West launched the Rural West Initative, which seeks to research and document contemporary life in the Rural West. Our work examines life in rural western areas through scholarship, public policy, and journalism.

Why We Study the Rural West

As the pace of urbanization accelerates in the western United States, the Rural West Initiative highlights the important role of rural communities in the region. Often overlooked in broader regional discussions, rural communities offer an important lens into the economics, environment, and health of the changing West. Through research and outreach, the Center is building a network of institutions and individuals to:

  • Identify common patterns across states, and develop best practices that can be shared across the Rural West;
  • Engage key actors at Stanford and other western universities to collaboratively problem-solve together through scholarship and research; and
  • Focus Stanford’s academic and clinical resources on policies and research that improve Rural Westerners’ health and health care access.


Annual Eccles Family Rural West Conference

Held each spring at a selected venue around the West, the conference is an interdisciplinary workshop that brings together academics, practitioners, and policymakers to share knowledge and ideas about the Rural West.

2019 Conference

Destination: West

April 5-6, 2019 in Park City, Utah

An exploration of how amenity migration and tourism have reshaped rural communities in the American West. Affordability, culture clashes, political divides, and environmental issues will be considered.
More information »

Previous Conferences

Collaboration and Compromise in the Rural West
Yakima, Washington, March 2018

Improving Health and Health Care in the Rural West
Stanford, California, January 2018

Toward a Healthier Rural West
Sante Fe, New Mexico, March 2017

People and Place in the Rural American West
Missoula, Montana, March 2016


The Rural West and Stanford

Rural Summer Fellowship

Administered by the Haas Center for Public Service, the Rural Summer Fellowship is a pilot that is designed to expose students to the differences that exist between communities based on size and population density. The hope is that exposure and comparison can lead to better understanding of the experiences and perspectives of members of rural communities.
Applications due Feb. 4, 2019

Two Perspectives on Stanford and Rural America

The Stanford Daily hosted a pair of op-ed pieces about the university's relationship to rural America, written by Haas Center director Thomas Schnaubelt, and a response by Surabhi Balachander, ’17, a PhD student in Michigan.

Rural West Conference Volume

Bridging the Distance

Common Issues of the Rural West

Edited by David B. Danbom
Foreword by David M. Kennedy

Published in cooperation with the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Stanford University
The University of Utah Press has published Bridging the Distance, a book by the Rural West Initiative of the Bill Lane Center for the American West. Edited by the distinguished historian David B. Danbom and with a foreword by Center co-founding director David M. Kennedy, the book explores the Rural West across four dimensions: Community, Land, Economics – and defining the Rural West itself. The book is the result of work presented at the first Conference on the Rural West, which took place in Ogden, Utah, in October 2012.