Illinois: A History in Pictures

Article excerpt

By Gerald A. Danzer. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 245, photographs, index. Cloth, $39.95.)

Combining illustrations with text has long been integral to American publishing. From early school primers to nineteenth-century journals and periodicals to the lavishly produced books issued by Life magazine in more recent years, the use of drawings, maps, photographs and other visual images to supplement the written word has been familiar to generations of American readers.

Gerald A. Danzer's Illinois: A History in Pictures is a contemporary example of this approach, applied this time to reconstituting the state's past. Danzer, an accomplished historian and an emeritus faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has used over one hundred illustrations of various types to follow the colorful trajectory of Illinois history. In doing so he has provided us with more than another coffee table book; he has produced instead a well-structured, coherent, and multihued narrative of the state's transformation from a primeval wilderness to a vibrant, vital part of America.

The book, as might be expected, is arranged chronologically, starting with the glacial period that was so influential in shaping the future of Illinois, and concluding with an overview of the state as it embarks upon the twenty-first century. Thus Danzer opens his account appropriately, it seems, with an examination of the physical geography of Illinois, the stage, as it were, on which the events of the state's past have been enacted.

The subsequent chapters replicate the traditional approach to the state's history by segmenting it into meaningful components, e.g.: Early People to 1700 (Chapter Two); The Territorial Period, 1783-1818 (Chapter Five); The Industrial Surge, 1870-1900 (Chapter Eight); and so on, closing with Entering Century 21: Illinois after 1990 (Chapter Twelve).

Danzer precedes the illustrations in each chapter with two features that are exceptionally informative and which expand the book beyond purely a collection of images with captions. …