A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West

A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West

A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West

A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West

Synopsis

A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West presents a series of essays that explore the historic and contemporary cultural expressions rooted in America's western states.
  • Offers a comprehensive approach to the wide range of cultural expressions originating in the west
  • Focuses on the intersections, complexities, and challenges found within and between the different historical and cultural groups that define the west's various distinctive regions
  • Addresses traditionally familiar icons and ideas about the west (such as cowboys, wide-open spaces, and violence) and their intersections with urbanization and other regional complexities
  • Features essays written by many of the leading scholars in western American cultural studies

Excerpt

Nicolas S. Witschi

At the first meeting of a class I recently taught on western American literature, I asked my students to come to the next session prepared to share one interesting fact, impression, or idea that they could find out about the American West, something they did not already know. I did not specify a particular research method or source, and I left the definition of “American West” entirely up to them. Having learned through our initial conversations that very few of the students in this class could claim any real familiarity with the region other than the vague sense that “west” meant a direction on a map that indicated a region of the nation other than their own, my goal was simply to see what a group of students from the upper Midwest would come up with, to gauge their first impressions or, at the very least, learn the dominant clichés and assumptions with which they may have come into the class. Not surprisingly, the overwhelmingly favorite research method for this assignment was the online search engine. What was slightly surprising, however, at least to me, was the fact that not a single student brought in a piece of information about any time period other than the mid-to late nineteenth century. We heard about famous gunfighters, about notorious frontier cattle towns, even about some women of ill repute with hearts of gold. To be sure, not all of the mini-reports presented genre clichés – there were reports on the city of Seattle’s rebuilding after an 1889 fire and about travelers’ experiences on the overland trail, mostly from the California Gold Rush and afterward. A few students brought in information about such conflicts as the Modoc War and Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn, while one student presented information about the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. In short, what my students found when they went looking for the American West was by and large the late nineteenth-century West of popular culture and national mythology.

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