The American West: The Invention of a Myth

By David H. Murdoch | Go to book overview

THE AMERICAN WEST

The Invention of a Myth

Americans have chosen to invest one small part of their history, the settlement of the western wilderness, with extraordinary significance. The lost frontier of the 1800s remains not merely a source of excitement and romance but of inspiration, because it is seen as providing a set of unique and imperishable core-values; individualism, self‐ reliance and a pristine sense of right and wrong. As a construct of the imagination, America's creation of the West is unique. Since this construct has little to do with history, The American West argues that our beliefs about the West amount to a modern functional myth.

In addition to presenting a sustained analysis of how and why the myth originated, David Murdoch demonstrates that the myth was invented, for the most part deliberately, and then outgrew the pur poses of its inventors.

The American West answers questions which have too often been either begged or ignored. Why should the West become the focus for myth in the first place, and why, given the long process of western settlement, is the cattleman's West so central and the cowboy, of all prototypes, the mythic hero? And why should the myth have retained its potency up to the last decade of the twentieth century?

David Hamilton Murdoch is Principal Teaching Fellow in the School of History at the University of Leeds. Educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and Liverpool University, David Hamilton Murdoch has written widely on American History and has been a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society since 1980.

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The American West: The Invention of a Myth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The American West - The Invention of a Myth *
  • The American West - The Invention of a Myth *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements *
  • Preface *
  • Chapter One - History through the Looking Glass *
  • Chapter Two - Myths and Heroes *
  • Chapter Three - Manufacturing Images *
  • Chapter Four - The Knights of the Range *
  • Chapter Five - The Myth-Makers *
  • Chapter Six - The West's Response *
  • Chapter Seven - The West of the Politicians *
  • Epilogue *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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