Western History and American Studies

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978-0-8263-3081-9

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Global West, American Frontier : Travel, Empire, and Exceptionalism from Manifest Destiny to the Great Depression


David M. Wrobel

Winner of the 2014 Western Heritage Award for Nonfiction from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

This thoughtful examination of a century of travel writing about the American West overturns a variety of popular and academic stereotypes. Looking at both European and American travelers’ accounts of the West, from de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, David Wrobel offers a counter narrative to the nation’s romantic entanglement with its western past and suggests the importance of some long-overlooked authors, lively and perceptive witnesses to our history who deserve new attention.

Prior to the professionalization of academic disciplines, the reading public gained much of its knowledge about the world from travel writing. Travel writers found a wide and respectful audience for their reports on history, geography, and the natural world, in addition to reporting on aboriginal cultures before the advent of anthropology as a discipline. Although in recent decades western historians have paid little attention to travel writing, Wrobel demonstrates that this genre in fact offers an important and rich understanding of the American West—one that extends and complicates a simple reading of the West that promotes the notions of Manifest Destiny or American exceptionalism.

Wrobel finds counterpoints to the mythic West of the nineteenth century in such varied accounts as George Catlin’s Adventures of the Ojibbeway and Ioway Indians in England, France, and Belgium (1852), Richard Francis Burton’s The City of the Saints (1861), and Mark Twain’s Following the Equator (1897), reminders of the messy and contradictory world that people navigated in the past much as they do in the present. His book is a testament to the instructive ways in which the best travel writers have represented the West.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

David M. Wrobel holds the Merrick Chair in Western History at the University of Oklahoma. He is also the author of The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal and Promised Lands: Promotion, Memory, and the Creation of the American West.

ACCLAIM

“An exceptionally well-researched history, Wrobel’s book offers enjoyable reading about the numerous and varied travel writers who shaped our idea of the West.”

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True West



“[Wrobel] argues that travel writings contributed valuable insight into the West and U.S. exceptionalism—especially in the absence of contemporary scholarship. . . . [H]is book reacquaints historians with an important source of information. Highly recommended.”

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Choice



“Wrobel demonstrates that a global perspective, in the right hands, is a powerful tool.”

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Journal of American History



“Wrobel upends expectations in his tour of western travel writing. . . . He sounds a welcome alarm not only to rethink the chronology of Manifest Destiny and globalism in the American West but to think more deeply and broadly about travel itself.”

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Western Historical Quarterly



“Offers a new approach to examining the enduring appeal of the West. It is meticulously researched, sweeping in its geographic scope, and very well written—so well written, in fact, that amateur and professional historians alike can read and enjoy it.”

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Journal of Arizona History



“[Wrobel] provides a compelling argument about how travel narratives shaped national and global understandings of the American West. . . . This book provides a compelling journey for the scholar, student, and armchair traveler interested in the American West and its global connections.”

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The Chronicles of Oklahoma



“Elegantly written and fully persuasive in getting us to view the West in new ways.”

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Montana the Magazine of Western History



“A well-written, multilayered study that contextualizes travel adventures written about the American West with narratives about other far-flung regions of the world. . . . Global West, American Frontier is a good read for both serious students of the American West and casual readers.”

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Utah Historical Quarterly



“An insightful addition to the historiography of the American West.”

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Pacific Northwest Quarterly



“In this deeply researched study, Wrobel shows how the legacies of ‘manifest destiny’ continue even as he contests monologic readings of the West. Using travel books to explore the rhetoric about the West, Wrobel takes readers on journeys—adventures—into the past to show us who we thought we were and how those visions continue to shape the present.”

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Western American Literature




6 x 9 in. 328 pages 52 halftones, 1 map