Raymond G. Starr, Book Review Editor
Over the Edge: Remapping the American West.
Edited by Valerie J. Matsumoto and Blake Allmendinger. Berkeley: University of California Press for the UCLA Center of Seventeen-and Eighteenth-Century Studies and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1999. Photographs, notes, maps, tables, index. Xii + 399 Pages. $19.95 Paperback.
In the last decade Western American history has been pulled from the periphery of the United States’ historical profession to the center; in the process the field has been transformed from the explication of a traditional white, male, frontier-oriented story to a showcase for new perspectives and interpretations. Some of the changes have been overdue, are significant and important; some are ideologically driven; and still others are simply trite. Over the Edge is a suburb sampler of this New Western History. It features twenty papers chosen from over fifty presentations at UCLA’s 1993-94 program series, “American Dreams, Western Images: Mapping the Contours of Western Experiences.” The authors range from academics in history, literature, ethnic studies, and political science to non-academic ecologists, writers and poets. They represent a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and sexual preferences. Naturally, their work represents this diverse background, which is exactly why this book is a good sampler of the New Western history. The varied articles replace the old cohesive frontier image of the west with multiple new ones, often representing new topics (women, children, Native Americans and other racial and cultural groups, gender issues, films, and health, for example). Some of the articles focus on community (as opposed to the old frontier individualism which was the cornerstone of the traditional interpretation — dare we say “myth” — of the American west.) Like contemporary American historiography, the selections detail many varied aspects of the past; they do nothing to suggest a new overriding interpretation of western history. Anyone who wants insights into American historiography today will benefit from exploring this book; even if you do not agree with all positions advanced, there are some fresh topics and approaches involved which demand any western historian’s attention.
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