Austin Miller

Ph.D. candidate, Department of History


Austin studies the American West, Southwest borderlands and environmental history. Embarking on dissertation research has drawn him back to his hometown of Carlsbad, New Mexico. His project, “Salt and Sand: Deep History in the Permian Basin,” is a wide-ranging environmental history of salt and its shifting roles in the remote communities of eastern New Mexico and West Texas. Overshadowed by the region’s abundant fossil fuel stores, salt is a neglected cornerstone of socioeconomic and political development in the Permian Basin. Life in the Permian has been shaped by these minerals and the ancient geological forces that deposited them, whether they are mined for potash fertilizer and road salt or used as a site for atomic testing and nuclear waste storage. As with hydrocarbon extraction and its associated industries, salt-related activities are directly connected to a slate of escalating environmental concerns ranging from the near-term to the distant. Viewed from this zoomed-out perspective, these salt beds function as a vital link between the area’s deep past and its deep future.


Before arriving at SMU, Austin earned his B.A. in honors interdisciplinary liberal arts and history from the University of New Mexico in 2015. After spending a year teaching and coaching seventh graders, he returned to UNM for graduate school, completing his M.A. in 2018. During his time on the Hilltop, he has been selected as a graduate student in residence in the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute and has worked as a consultant at the Graduate Writing Center. He has also taught U.S. history at Albuquerque Academy and Ursuline Academy of Dallas. After completing his Ph.D., he plans to pursue a teaching career in independent secondary schools. When he isn’t reading or daydreaming, he enjoys playing golf and tennis; running and biking along the Katy Trail and White Rock Lake; attending concerts; hiking with his girlfriend and their dog, Lupin; and following an array of professional and collegiate sports.