Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor
Readings in California Civilization: Interpretative Issues. By Howard A. DeWitt. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1981. Photographs. 222 pages. $12.95.
Reviewed by Clare V. McKanna, Instructor of California history at San Diego Evening College (Mesa Campus).
Practically every university, state college, and community college in California offers a history course covering the development of California’s heritage and institutions from 1769 to the present. There are many textbooks detailing the movements of Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American immigrants who settled in California, but few of them provide adequate reading material on various specific topics that might capture the history of a given period. Readers have been written to supplement these textbooks, yet few have adequately fulfilled this purpose. Most of the readers provide, at best, a glimpse of what it was like to live in the Gold Rush era, the Hispanic halcyon days, or the depression years of the Joads. This new work by Howard A. DeWitt held out the hope that a new road would be opened for historians who, like myself, have been looking for a reader with more substance and depth that would cover topics with greater detail and meaning. Unfortunately, DeWitt’s reader on California does not completely deliver.
To his credit, the author does provide a chapter on the Native American’s role in California history, but the readings are so short that we do not gain the true meaning of what it was like to be an Indian under Hispanic or Anglo control. What was it really like to be under the lash during the Spanish era? How did the Native Americans react to punishment? Were they able to adapt to European civilization? What happened when the Anglos replaced the Hispanics? These are the questions that should be asked in any California history class. The answers come only with well chosen readings that cover in depth the problems encountered by the Native Americans. Still, there are no readers that give the answers to these and other questions.
DeWitt does cover nine specific issues ranging from Native Americans, Mexican California, the Gold Rush, and the Railroad Era to Race, Labor, and Student Rights. The readings are arranged to cover as broad a perspective as possible. The author uses some of his own useful articles and includes items by such diverse writers as Hubert Howe Bancroft, Theodora Kroeber, Allan Nevins, Carey McWilliams, Gerald Stanley, and Richard H. Peterson. However, the readings are often too brief and do not give the reader a real feel for the period covered. It would seem more logical to cover the topics in more depth with fewer selections.
In defense of the author, he has provided pertinent material that can be used to explain various trends in California history. The book is well illustrated and includes excellent documentation on minority groups. A bibliography of other readings would have been useful. In conclusion, DeWitt has filled a void by providing a reader for the typical California historian. During a time when few readers have been forthcoming, we should welcome this new work.