In Empires Nations and Families, Anne Hyde undergoes an incredibly ambitious project; providing a history of the American West from 1800-1860. She does so in an ingenious way, using an original interpretive framework to cope with a large volume of material. By looking at individual family units and tracing their connections over different spaces and at different times, Hyde provides an engaging and interesting look at the history of the American West.
Hyde begins her study of the American West with Part I of her book, “Replacing a State: The Continental Web of Family Trade.” In these chapters, Hyde explores the expansion of the fur trade and how it linked different families in different places. In Part II, titled “Americans All: The Mixed World of Indian Country,” Hyde details the Native American responses to the fur trade, war, and removal, and emphasizes how important Native groups were for business and diplomacy. In Part III, “From Nations to Nation: Imposing a State, 1840-1865,” Hyde moves on to discuss the conquest of the West and the ways in which new ideas surrounding race and imperial power changed the North American West. Overall, Hyde emphasizes the importance of family connections as business affairs were often built on personal relationships. Kinship also helped to protect families against change and even adapt to it. In the end however, kinship networks between Anglo and Native Americans proved to be fatal, as mixed race people in the West were the ultimate losers after the new discourse on race and imperial ideology took over following the Mexican War.
Hyde claims that the task of her book is to “impose narrative and analytical order over such disparate stories and geographic space to build a larger story about the trans-Mississippi West between 1804 and 1860,” (15) and she accomplishes just that. By studying these families Hyde shows how the identities and loyalties of these people living in the West lay more with one another and other families that with any nation or exclusive ethnic identity. Looking at families such as the Chouteaus, Bents, Ballejos, and McLoughlins, Hyde uses a staggering amount of sources including family papers, territorial documents, journals, Office of Indian Affairs documents, Hudson’s’ Bay Company papers, and a wide range of secondary sources. Hyde’s use of sources as well as her framework and analysis of families makes Empires, Nations, and Families a well researched and interesting read. One of the only things missing from the narrative is any sort or discussion about slavery. Westward expansion certainly raised questions pertaining to the transfer and movement of slaves, something that Hyde does not look at focusing mostly on family ties and how expansion effected Native Americans. Regardless, Hyde provides a fresh and new way of studying the American West, one that is highly recommended for anyone seeking to gain a greater understanding of the American frontier.