YC Prof. Featured on National TV

By Chrystal Houston


YC History professor, Tim McNeese made his debut on national television Tuesday night on the History Channel's presentation: “Risk Takers, History Makers: John Wesley Powell and the Grand Canyon.” The hour long program premiered primetime at 7:00 p.m. February 28 and will run again March 4 at 9:00 a.m. CST.  McNeese was the documentary’s consulting historian, providing background and biographical information on John Wesley Powell.  


The subject of the program, John Wesley Powell, was the first person to lead an expedition down the uncharted portion of the Colorado River in 1869.  His voyage included passing through the Grand Canyon, a feat never before accomplished. 


“Powell really was the last great American explorer,” noted McNeese.  “After him, there wasn’t much left to ‘discover’ in the American West, which makes his expedition that much more important.”


Powell’s expedition party, which included nine other men, faced grueling challenges as they negotiated passages through hundreds of river rapids. Their food supplies became wet and spoiled, the expedition faced near starvation before completing their journey through the Grand Canyon.  McNeese participated in physical challenges designed to replicate incidents Powell and his men experienced during their 100-day, 1,000-mile journey down the Colorado River. 


McNeese and the series’ host, Chris Warner, were required to row a 19th century wooden rowboat through over a dozen rapids, free float a set of rapids, be plucked from a rock surrounded by rapids during a mock rescue after a simulated boat wreck, line a boat with ropes through rocky rapids, and scale canyon walls.


This was the first project of this type McNeese had been involved in. “I never thought I’d do something like this…I mean, you watch some of these programs and think, ‘hey, I could do that,’ but that’s not really the same,” said McNeese. YC doesn’t have to worry about McNeese ‘quitting his day job’ to pursue a career as a TV historian, though. “[this opportunity] just showed up out of the blue, and I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s just gravy for me. It’s not where I’ve geared my career,” he said. “I don’t sit around thinking, gee, I wonder when the next one’s going to come along.”


The episode of “Risk Takers, History Makers” was made as a pilot for a History Channel series. McNeese says he doesn’t know whether the series will get picked up, and if it does, whether or not he’ll be involved, but he was excited to see the finished product on TV. “I’m happy with it. They’ve done a good job with the editing,” said McNeese.


McNeese was recently asked by Peter Kulak, World Geography and History Editor, Africa and Asia, for the World Book Encyclopedia, if he would agree to preview and edit the entry on Marco Polo for the 2007 edition of the WBE.  McNeese's 75th book manuscript that he finished last spring was a biography on Polo.