HISTORIANS AND THE AMERICAN WEST by Michael P.--Ed. Malone

HISTORIANS AND THE AMERICAN WEST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first such volume, and high time: 17 essays, plus an introduction by editor Malone, assessing 90 years of historical writing on the American West--roughly, since Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis (1893). The two essays on the Indian, indeed, reach back to the earliest reminiscences and official reports. Otherwise they differ greatly: Herbert T. Hoover, treating of the pre-Civil War period, offers a stringent analysis of American Indian history's ""three distinct components"" (tribal affairs, governmental policy, Indian/non-Indian contacts), identifying many lacunae and specifying many deficiencies, as well as precisely characterizing innumerable books; Robert C. Carriker, handling the post-Civil War period, faults an occasional work (most vehemently, Dee Brown's ""one-dimensional"" Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) and generally describes developments decade-by-recent-decade. Neither, however, evaluates Alvin Josephy's popular works or Robert Berkhofer's theoretical blast, The White Man's Burden (1978)--the volume is not, in short, all-encompassing. Other contributions, even on relatively circumscribed topics, also vary considerably in tenor and approach. Examining Spanish borderlands history, Donald C. Cutter centers on the ""multifaceted"" dominance of Herbert Eugene Bolton and includes some vivid, apt personalization; reviews of the fur trade and exploration, mining, farmers and stockmen, or transportation range from annotated booklists to de facto interpretive histories. Conceptual areas of lively disagreement--expansionism, violence--come under relatively keen scrutiny. (Did the spirit of manifest destiny represent ""a fundamental human drive for territorial acquisition,"" or was it a specifically American rationalization?) Subjects of particular recent interest--women, minorities, resources, urbanism--get a passable-to-good airing, while the slighted area of 20th-century politics expands in F. Alan Coombs' treatment. There are interesting cross-comparisons, with contributors reflecting different points of view, and the index brings them all together. Though tittle of great weight is said by anyone, including editor Malone, the range of works suggests that Western historians, and other writers on the West, have nothing to apologize for (even if they're not, as Malone seems to regret, altogether up on econometrics or psychohistory).

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska Press