Tag Archives: Academic Reviews

Mattew Guterl – Seeing Race (2013)


In his recently published book, Matthew Guterl examines what he call the “sightlines” of looking at race – the multitude of methods that have, over time, created an unconscious prejudice.

He begins with the practice of profiling (suggesting that its possible to identify criminals based on their appears) and how things controversial method has become a generally widely accepted practice. He looks at the historic stereotypes of African Americans and the excessive media attention that adopted multi-racial families garner. He talks about how the children are often descried as being part of a mini-UN under the benevolent leadership of white American parents; expanding the idea of family which emphasizing racial difference. He also looks at the way that race is often subversive especially in terms of people “passing” as other races.

While this is an academic book, it is still conversational and holds appeal for a wide range of audience, especially as notions of race become even more contested. His work is well researched, but he uses pop culture references to make it more accessible. A well written and insightful look at the way we view race today.

Elliot West – The Last Indian War (2009)

The Last Indian War

American historiography is stocked full of literature covering the Civil War and Reconstruction. The story of the Nez Perce is also and oft-told one, but in his book The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story, Elliot West seeks to reconsider the history of the United States during the period between 1845 and 1877. For West the phrase “Greater Reconstruction” encompasses two great events in the United States – The Civil War and its consequences, and the movement of Americans into the West – that reconstructed the nation. In revisiting this event West argues that the 1870s conflict between the Nez Perce and the US federal government should be viewed in the broader study of the Greater Reconstruction.

After giving an ethnographic study of the Nez Perce people, West divides his work into three parts. The first details the growing tensions between the Nez Perce and incoming white settlers that let to the outbreak of violence. He discusses white settlers and missionaries, as well as events, such as the Gold Rush, that brought additional settlers to the area. The second and longest sections details the beginning of war on the Idaho-Oregon border in June to the final battle in Montana the following October. During this section of his book, West’s grip on military history is clear. He gives long detailed accounts of the Battles, tactics, and maneuvers that characterized the year at war. The final section deals with the final battle and Indian defeat in Bear’s Paw Mountain, the exile to Kansas and Indian Territory, and the return of the Nez Perce to Idaho and Washington territories in the 1880s. In this section West provides an intense biographical sketch of Joseph, the Nez Perce leader who surrendered to the American government. West details how at the time Joseph received a great deal of press coverage and popularity as he was considered a curiosity.

In his narrative account of the Last Indian War, West makes use of standard military histories, memoirs, congressional records, newspaper and journal articles, and published Nez Perce accounts of the war. The published works compiled by Lucullas McWhorter, who interviewed several survivors of the war, make up an important part of West’s work. In his review of West’s work however, RW Swagerty, criticized West for not making use of new information that continues to surface years later through family oral traditions.

This flaw aside, West summarized the war and significance for the United States by tying it to the greater questions surrounding the Civil War Reconstruction Period, especially questions surrounding the nature of citizenship and how it should extend (if at all) to freed blacks and Native Americans. For West, during these years, ironically the nation became more inclusive of blacks and immigrants, while becoming more exclusive of cultural diversity, especially its indigenous population. This era, he writes, “began in conquest and expanded promise. It unfolded through appalling bloodshed, liberation, consolidation, and cultural assault. It ended with the nation fighting its last Indian war against its most persistently loyal native ally”

West in his narrative on the Last Indian War and the period of Greater Reconstruction seeks to show how the new nation of the United States was emerging and needed to find a place for the non-whites. Unfortunately for the Nez Perce there was no place for them in the new nation.

Anne Hyde – Empires, Nations, and Families (2011)

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.

Rating: 3.5/5