Monday, December 29, 2008

The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia

This year a kind and generous Santa brought me The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia, an 1891-page behemoth edited by Richard Sisson, Christian Zacher, and Andrew Cayton. (Cayton, as faithful readers of this blog already know, wrote the wonderful Frontier Indiana.) Their "Midwest" is more inclusive than this blog's: besides Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, it includes Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and both Dakotas.

The encyclopedia's 22 chapters each contain many individual articles by expert authors with additional reading suggestions. They run from geography to small-town life to military affairs, but its index has no entry for "genealogy." It's all relevant, of course, but of particular interest to genealogists may be "Cultural Geography" (p. 145), "Peoples" (p. 177), "Language" (p. 278), and the brief sketch of "State and Local Historical Societies" (p. 654). As a fan of Cayton's "General Overview" (p. xix), I'll give him the floor:

The conquest, settlement, and development of what we call the Midwest is one of the most important events in the past quarter millennium of human history. In the nineteenth century, millions of people entered this interior region, forcibly displaced thousands of American Indians, and established a society that dominated North America and much of the globe throughout the twentieth century. This breathtaking transformation amounts to one of the most all-encompassing and significant revolutions in the history of the world. ...

The Midwest in fact is not the land of the bland, but a collection of disparate communities held together, more or less, by a civic culture that transcends (or at least ignores) differences...

Read the whole thing.

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