NORMAN D. BROWN, Editor
The Oxford History of the American West. Edited by Clyde Milner II, Carol A. O'Con-
nor, and Martha Sandweiss. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Pp.
xii+872. Preface, introduction, index. ISBN 0-10505-968-9. $39.95.)
This formidable multi-authored tome is much more interesting than a text-
book ought to be. Readers should not be put off by its multi-authored format.
This is not a reference book or an encyclopedia. Instead, the editors Clyde A.
Milner II and Carol A. O'Connor, both of Utah State University, and Martha
Sandweiss, of Amherst College, have attempted a topical approach to western
history that includes a large number of interesting and well-written essays by re-
spected scholars. In the spirit of the "new" western history the editors have at-
tempted to break up the narrative carried for so long on the back of Frederick
Jackson Turner, and they have focused more than half the book on the twenti-
eth century, when the West becomes virtually indistinguishable from the rest of
America. Ironically, however, since the editors and authors for the most part aim
to present history, the book is still structured chronologically. In fact, it often
parallels Ray Allen Billington's hoary text Westward Expansion, except that terms
like "the mining frontier," "the cattle frontier," and "the farmer's frontier" are
avoided-as well they should be. Due in part to splendid editing, the "topical"
chapters are not repetitious as they move through time. This is a great feat.
The fourth part of the book, a stab at cultural history, however, much resem-
bles Robert Hine's more modest text The American West: An Interpretive History.
These latter chapters appear to be tacked on to the rest of the book and editor
Sandweiss seems to have an imperfect grasp not only of the major cultural events
in western history (see her chronology) but also of the very real significance of
belief systems. Such systems of thought are not "by the way" expressions but are
critical to the very definition of western history.
Indeed, the weakest essays are in this concluding cultural history section.
Charles S. Peterson's clumsy attempt at western historiography ignores most of
the major works, authors, and institutions that developed the field. For example,
it is impossible to see how he could have overlooked the critical role of Yale Uni-
versity in generating academic western history. Thomas J. Lyon shows almost no
knowledge of the literary West. In fact, he cannot even define it. Likewise Ann
Butler in "Telling the Popular Myth" seems to have overlooked the major works
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed May 22, 2015.