The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983 Page: 451
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homesteaders kept getting in the way of the powerful open-range opera-
tors. Professional historians, like the big ranchers, say little in public on
the subject, whereas the interlopers talk and write about it often.
C. L. Sonnichsen, who carries the license of an English professor,
speaks for the commonality in this short collection of essays which are
so sprightly that even the stuffed shirts among the pros will surely find
delight in them. "The Ambidextrous Historian," which gives the book
its title, is only one chapter of eleven keen-edged discourses, but it sets
the theme for the whole. In it he deals with the nonconformist, the
"poor wayfaring scholar" (p. 19) who dares to challenge the halls of
academe by publishing outside his own field. It is Sonnichsen's thesis
that historians should know many other subjects than their own in
order to see the whole picture, and he bolsters his argument by point-
ing out that in Europe it is almost a rule that great historical scholars
come into the field from other areas. As the author of more than a
dozen first-rate histories of the Southwest, Sonnichsen is living evidence
for his own premise, but he makes no mention of that.
In his introductory piece he discusses the current malaise that affects
the writing of history, takes some barbed shots at the "eastern establish-
ment" (p. 7), and deplores the professionals' strict demands for objec-
tivity and precise documentation, which he believes squeeze out the
joy and imagination that bring life to history. He pleads for more
human feeling, more poetry, in writing about the past. Throughout
the book he frequently takes time to encourage the history buffs, the
untrained local historians, who are so often scorned by the pros. He
proposes establishment of an Order of Minor Historians, among whom
he considers himself to belong.
Sonnichsen also has kind words for two overworked professionals-
librarians of small research history collections and editors of regional
historical journals. But he has unkind words for historians who tram-
ple on subjects dear to his heart. He says historians of the American
West have turned against the pioneer settlers, who are "victims of time
and change and the guilt complexes of their descendants" (p. 61).
Their motives and information were not the same as ours, he protests,
and calls for a salvage operation to restore the image of the pioneer.
Perhaps Sonnichsen forgets that every generation rewrites history to
bring it into accord with its own changing views of humanity. If he
can wait for a while, the pioneer's turn doubtless will come around
Little Rock, Arkansas
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983, periodical, 1982/1983; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101209/m1/499/: accessed April 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.