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An Anthropological Evaluation of William Keys' Desert Queen Ranch, Joshua Tree National Monument, California
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Chapter 3:
Important persons and distinctive architecture

The quality of significance in American History... is present in..... sites... that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or... that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction... (Advisory Council 1974: Sec. 800.10 [a] [2]&[3]).

However important William Keys may have been in local history, I do not propose to argue that Keys' Ranch is significant because it is associated with him as an individual. Keys, as an individual, did not have a major impact on American history. What is important about Keys, his family, his friends and his predecessors is that their responses to changing social environments translate broad socioeconomic processes into human terms.

Similarly, although I think it is arguable that the buildings at Keys' Ranch embody distinctive characteristics of what might be called ad hoc desert architecture, the importance of the buildings lies more in the uses to which they were put and in their organizational relationship to one another than in their architectural merit per se. This is not to say that the styles of the buildings, or the methods and materials used to construct them, are not of potential value to an anthropological study of the ranch. Buildings are artifacts, with attributes whose selection reflects conscious and unconscious choices on the part of their builders. The choices that Keys made in developing the ranch should reflect the strategies he employed in coping with his changing socioeconomic environment. The construction, organization and use of the buildings thus comprise categories of data useful for interpreting the ranch. This interpretation, however, is an anthropological activity and use of the ranch's structures in that activity is architectural only in a technical sense. The fact that the buildings may or may not embody distinctive characteristics of types, periods or methods of construction—facts that are of legitimate architectural interest—are not relevant to the present discussion.

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Last Updated: 04-June-2007