Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West

Oxford University Press, 1994 - 292 Seiten
The West has long been central to the American identity, and the writing of western history has reflected our changing sense of ourselves. For decades, the story of the West has been told as a glorious tale of conquest and rugged individualism--a triumphant march of progress. But recently a new school of historians has taken a second look at this tradition, creating what is known as "new western history," an approach that gives a central role to the environment, native peoples, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few elites. And foremost among the new western historians is Donald Worster. In Worster's writings, the western past emerges not as a march of Manifest Destiny, but as an unfolding relationship between man and nature, and the forging of a multicultural society. In Under Western Skies, Worster conveys the power of the new western history with eleven eloquent and graceful essays. He provides an introduction to the changing traditions of western historical writing, and then demonstrates his own approach through fascinating case studies. Identifying himself as an environmental historian, he writes compellingly of the changing relationship between the land, native Americans, and the descendants of Europe. For example, he takes a hard look at the struggle by the Lakota to regain ownership of the Black Hills, examining not only the legal history of treaties and court cases but also the place of the Black Hills in Indian religion and the way they have been exploited under U.S. management. He discusses the cowboy (a romantic figure almost ignored by historians) in terms of the new ecology that arose from livestock ranching--the endless miles of fencing, the changes in the environment wrought by extensive grazing, wild life of the range almost wiped out because they were considered a threat to sheep and cattle. But Worster's view of nature isn't as simple or as linear as for instance Bill McKibben's stark picture in The End of Nature, a picture Worster argues against. From the mining ghost towns of the Rockies to the uprooted farm families of the Dust Bowl, nature sometimes wins the struggle. Even the Hoover Dam, he reminds us, may one day be overcome by the patient Colorado River. "Human domination over nature is quite simply an illusion, a passing dream by a naive species. It is an illusion that has cost us much, ensnared us in our own designs, given us a few boasts to make about our courage and genius, but all the same it is an illusion." These gracefully composed essays offer both intriguing insights into important aspects of our history and a new appreciation for the place of nature, native peoples, and struggles over money and power in the western past.

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LibraryThing Review

Nutzerbericht  - EvalineAuerbach - LibraryThing

"New Western history" gives a central role to the environment. Not as negative as many: "From the mining ghost towns of the Rocikes to the uprooted farm families of the Dust Bowl, nature sometimes ... Vollständige Rezension lesen

LibraryThing Review

Nutzerbericht  - MikeNelis - LibraryThing

Important and highly intelligent analysis; try also his Dust Bowl. Vollständige Rezension lesen


1 Beyond the Agrarian Myth
2 New West True West
3 Cowboy Ecology
4 Hydraulic Society in California
A Study in Domination
The Western Paradox
Agricultural Capitalism on the Plains
Sacred or Profane?
The Underworld Erupts
10 Grounds for Identity
11 A Country Without Secrets

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Über den Autor (1994)

About the Author:Donald Worster is Hall Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of Kansas. He is the author of Dust Bowl, Rivers of Empire, and other works of history.

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