Academic journal article The Historian

Virginia City: Secrets of a Western Past

Academic journal article The Historian

Virginia City: Secrets of a Western Past

Article excerpt

Virginia City: Secrets of a Western Past. By Ronald M. James. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press and the Society for Historical Archaeology, 2012. Pp. xxii, 147. $16.95.)

In this fascinating book, the author makes a compelling argument for viewing the past through the multiple lenses of history, archaeology, architecture, and the world of material culture. The focus of the book is the famous western mining town of Virginia City, Nevada. Nine views of the town's past are presented in the book, chapter by chapter. In the first chapter, the archaeological record is used to explore the earliest forms of mining technology on the Comstock such as "rathole" mines and arrastras. Virginia City's urban architecture is the subject of chapter 2, in which the author considers how surviving buildings and the town's layout reflect the cosmopolitan lifestyles and social structure of the community. The author concludes that the "real urban environment of Virginia City is best understood with balance, and that is most easily achieved by walking around the place and considering the remnants of the past" (30). In the next chapter, "An Irish Blacksmith and the Archaeology of Belief," the author looks at the material world of rituals and belief systems among the residents of the community.

Author Ronald M. James turns to issues of ethnicity and racism on the Comstock in chapter 4, using the archaeological record to document the lives of Chinese Americans living in Virginia City. What historical archaeologists have learned about leisure and saloon life in Virginia City is the subject of chapter 5, which is focused upon the results of excavations of a "German-owned theater saloon, a shooting gallery and bar, an African American establishment, and one with an Irish clientele" (54). …

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