Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860

By Anne F. Hyde | Go to book overview

Acknowledgments
Adventures in the Land of the Dead

This book has its own history. I grew on it, and life interfered with writing it, so it took a while. I have a particular perspective that is partly training, partly experience, and partly personal. I’ve been a historian, a teacher, a parent, a wife, a daughter, a friend, and I’ve been embedded in various communities for a long time. These relationships form my relationship with the past. I can, I think, empathize with Marguerite McLoughlin as she watched her young children head off for school, knowing she might not see them for years at a time, or with the worry Island Bent felt about what might happen to her children if she were not there to protect them. I teach at a small liberal arts college where research is important, but the intellectual and personal relationships I build with students matter more. We spend a lot of time talking about what history is and why it might matter—daily practice in perspective taking and in endless revision. These conversations have certainly influenced how I chose to tell this story.

The progressive historian Charles Beard gave us good advice in his presidential address to the American Historical Association in 1933. He insisted that despite the best efforts to make history into a science, writing history remained “an act of faith.” He recognized that we take our flawed, biased contemporary selves to face the “wreck of matter and crush of worlds” that is the past. From that mess and from a position in the present, historians must make decisions about the stories to tell and the details to include, and “face them boldly, aware of the intellectual and moral perils inherent in any decision.”1 I read that essay almost every year with my students, and it still resonates deeply about the responsibility we have to the past to retell it with faith in the present.

The nexus of families and relationships that undergirds this book has its own structural support—a dense web of scholarship that has emerged over the past twenty-five years. I have the privilege of donning lenses that

-xiii-

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