For some time now it has been increasingly modish for young, revisionist Western historians to reexamine the history of the region—the history as set down by the likes of Fredrick Jackson Turner and Walter Prescott Webb, for example—and further, to do so from the vantage point of folks who, likely as not, are trained in inter- or trans-disciplinary methods, that is, folks who are schooled rather in methods wherein the historian incorporates aspects of the West that would never have occurred to the likes of Turner and Webb. The contributors to TRAILS exemplify this school of revisionist historians—this new view of the past.
The collection at hand began as a series of papers read at a symposium organized by editor Patricia Nelson Limerick in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1989. The symposium launched a traveling museum exhibit on the West called “Trails Through Time.” Later essays were commissioned by editor Rankin, and the project grew into the present volume.
Essays addressing the “New Western History” are by Donald Worster, Richard White, Peggy Pascoe, and Patricia Nelson Limerick. A section on “Old and New Western Histories” includes essays by Limerick, Gerald Thompson, Michael P. Malone, Elliott West, and Brian Dippie. The final section—headed “The Global West”—showcases writings by Malone, Walter Nugent, and William G. Robbins.
Oh, there are those traditionalist Western historians who feel stung by this newfangled way of thinking, to be sure—it just isn’t seemly, they snort, as they twirl their handlebar mustaches and order up one last sarsaparilla before calling the young upstarts out into the dusty street to “slap leather.”
History—the study of history, at least—is alive and kicking in this fine collection.