Stephen C. Jett Autobiography

My ancestry is mainly British Isles and German. Born in 1938, I grew up during the 1940s and ’50s as an only child (but with lots of cousins) in the lush Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, OH. My rural-Kentucky-raised dad, Richard S. Jett (Princeton A.B., Cornell LL.D.), was an attorney for a bank, and my Shaker Heights mom, Miriam Horn Jett (Mount Holyoke A.B.), was a homemaker with varied cultural and social interests. My parents’ love of good books, fine architecture, and travel, and my maternal grandfather’s reverence for history (and for good grammar), helped set my life course in those directions. My penchant for exploration—manifest from childhood on—may reflect descent from two sisters of Daniel Boone.

As a boy and young man, I developed a strong interest in birding, and also collected rock specimens and lepidoptera, particularly in the vicinity of my maternal grandparents’ nature-surrounded summer-colony cottage. I earned money shoveling snow, mowing lawns, and occasionally appearing on a local radio show for children. While others bought soda pop and pop phonograph records, I put my allowance and earnings into my stamp collection, learning a lot about geography, history, and graphic arts in the process.

Following K–7 in excellent Shaker Heights public schools, I spent 8–12 as a scholarship student at The University School, a private country-day institution, graduating cume laude in 1956. Summer jobs included maintenance work at a Solon, OH, factory, delivering files at my grandfather’s law firm, being a bank teller, and serving as a counselor at Culver Military Academy Woodcraft Camp (which I had attended; I also became an Eagle Scout with gold palm).

My four collegiate years were passed on the handsome campus of Princeton University, where I majored in Geology (AB cum laude, 1960). That major—which reflected my fascination with natural landscape—involved extensive field work in New Jersey, Montana, and Wyoming. I then spent two years on fellowship studying geography at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University and a year of dissertation fieldwork in the U.S. Southwest. My dissertation earned me a JHU doctorate in 1964. The main influence there on my academic orientation was the cultural geographer George F. Carter, one-time student of Carl O. Sauer. Owing to Carter’s interests, to my experiences in the Navajo Country, and to a lack of talent in quantitative methods, my emphasis shifted significantly away from physical geography and toward cultural geography. My principal research interests came to be Navajo culture and history and pre-Columbian transoceanic interactions.

Following a year teaching Geography at Columbus’s Ohio State University (1963–1964), I took a job in that field at the University of California, Davis, spending the rest of my career there and chairing the department for some years. My major field work was carried out on the Navajo Indian Reservation in the Four Corners region, particularly at Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.

In Davis, CA, I was involved in historical-landmarks efforts and in drafting a municipal general-plan noise element and ordinance. During the 1960s, I was also instrumental in the defeat of a federal proposal to erect two dams in the Grand Canyon.

In 1971, I married Mary Frances Manak of Cleveland Heights, a beginning elementary-school teacher, and we went on a honeymoon wildlife safari in East Africa. A daughter, Jennifer F. Jett, arrived in 1974. Mary and I divorced in 1977, and I remained single until 1995, when I wed fellow geographer Lisa Sue Roberts (Mary Washington BA, LSU MA, Tennessee Ph.D.), with whom I had been acquainted since 1979.

UCD Geography was dissolved in 1996, and I joined the Division of Textiles and Clothing. In 2000, I retired, and at the end of 2001 we moved to Lisa’s historic hometown of Abingdon, in Southwest VA, where, initially, she did adjunct teaching and later worked as a reference and fiction specialist at the county public library. Annually, I teach a course at our College for Older Adults. In Abingdon, I was very active (but unsuccessful) in efforts to oppose a proposed shopping-center and sports-complex development on a historic plantation property, and to have a park established there instead.

Steve Jett in valley of Veaux, Provence, France, 2012 —Photo by Lisa Roberts Jett

In 1960, I spent a summer in France with the Experiment in International Living. In 1969, I bought an old house in the tiny Hameau de Veaux, Département du Vaucluse, in sunny Provence. Ultimately acquiring three more dwellings, we restored and furnished them with antiques over the years. Fixing up and enjoying these buildings (and dealing with their problems and frustrations) has been a family project for decades and over four generations. We adore the surrounding country, which is full of gorges, rugged hills, quaint castellated villages, towns boasting Roman ruins, good food and wine, and the arts (especially, music). We occasionally get to the more-distant classic towns of Orange, Avignon, Nîmes, Aix, and Arles, plus the Pont-du-Gard. We use the homes ourselves and also manage them as vacation rentals (see In 2004, I published the high-school-level Modern World Nations book France, and in 2006 was an invited lecturer and panelist at the Festival Internationale de Géographie, St-Dié des Vosges.

I have been a collector since childhood, but acquiring and studying Navajo rugs commenced only as a young adult. I put on two exhibitions of Indian rugs and baskets in Davis galleries. There, too, I co-curated an exhibition reflecting my later interest, Central and Southwest Asian tribal textiles. This latter focus culminated in guest curation of a major exhibition of Baluchi and Aimaq weavings in 2006, at the Georgia Museum of Art. I am also a collector of books and of works of art on paper.

My daughter, attorney Jennifer F. Jett of San Diego, is married to Alan Heider, Jr.; their children are Jacob and Morgan. Jennifer is a vice-president at Sempra Energy.

Navajo and Other Southwest Interests

Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts