Iowa History Reader
Publication Year: 2008
Marvin Bergman has drawn upon his years of editing the Annals of Iowa to gather contributors who cross disciplines, model the craft of writing a historical essay, cover more than one significant topic, and above all interpret history rather than recite it. In his preface to this new printing, he calls attention to publications that begin to fill the gaps noted in the 1996 edition.
Rather than survey the basic facts, the essayists engage readers in the actual making of Iowa’s history by trying to understand the meaning of its past. By providing comprehensive accounts of topics in Iowa history that embrace the broader historiographical issues in American history, such as the nature of Progressivism and Populism, the debate over whether women’s expanded roles in wartime carried over to postwar periods, and the place of quantification in history, the essayists contribute substantially to debates at the national level at the same time that they interpret Iowa’s distinctive culture.
Published by: University of Iowa Press
Preface to the University of Iowa Press Edition
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I AM GRATEFUL to the University of Iowa Press for wanting to reprint my Iowa History Reader. We agreed that the selections I made a little over a decade ago have held up well, so we decided not to make any changes to them. I do, however, want to take the opportunity to call attention to some studies published since the original Reader came out that have begun to fill some of the gaps...
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IN 1973 Dorothy Schwieder, frustrated by "the lack of usable classroom materials in Iowa history," compiled a set of essays that she hoped could serve "either for basic or supplemental reading in Iowa history."1 Now she has gone even further to fill that gap by publishing her long-awaited survey of Iowa history, Iowa: The Middle Land. With three very different survey texts now available, the need for basic reading material on Iowa history has diminished significantly.2 But these basic texts should not represent the last word for those...
Iowa: The Middle Land
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IN 1930 a relatively unknown artist painted a rather stark portrait of two Iowans entitled American Gothic. The portrait captured first prize that year at the Chicago Art Institute and Grant Wood's art career was launched. For the next decade, Wood produced painting after painting in which he depicted his native state. His characterizations of Iowa with its velvety smooth, softly rounded hills, its fat globular trees, its 1930s-vintage farmhouses, and its fastidiously neat rows of corn came to be widely recognized around the region and around the world. Through his paintings, Wood proclaimed to the world...
“We Dance in Opposite Directions”: Mesquakie (Fox) Separatism from the Sac and Fox Tribe
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AS ETHNOHISTORIANS continue their efforts to interpret Native American history, the issues raised by Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., in his essay "The Political Context of a New Indian History," will become increasingly important to their analysis. Ethnohistorians will become more responsive to the evidence of political factionalism and they will discover in community political conflict a useful device for reaching a better, fuller and more precise understanding of the social and economic as well as political processes they are trying to explain. This...
The Frontier in Process: Iowa’s Trail Women as a Paradigm
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DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY the western portion of America exploded into an unbelievable multitude and variety of frontier regions. Some sprang up overnight while others disappeared overnight; most, however, were created gradually and peopled incrementally. In time, they usually prospered and became the stuff from which dreams were being shaped not only in the rest of the United States but throughout much of the world....
Farming in the Prairie Peninsula, 1830-1890
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FLARING WESTWARD from the upper valley of the Wabash lies the prairie triangle, embracing most of central and northern Illinois and almost all of Iowa. Much of this region today lies in the heart�of the corn belt. Its economic history is a story of practical experimentation, adaptation, and change as its restless settlers endeavored after 1820 to unlock its wealth. To do so, the prairie pioneers had to adapt techniques and crops to the novel environment of an almost treeless grassland at a time when both technology and markets were undergoing revolutionary change. In 1830 the farm-makers had hardly begun...
The Political Culture of Antebellum Iowa: An Overview
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THE POLITICAL CULTURE of the antebellum United States has been exercising historians ever since the professionalization of their discipline in the late nineteenth century. During the first half of the twentieth century most historians used traditional paradigms to explain the volatile politics of the 1840s and 1850s. Focusing primarily on the activities of political elites, they explained support for the Whig, Democratic, and Republican parties in terms of the great national issues of the day- tariffs, banking, and the expansion of slavery, to...
“Men Did Not Take to the Musket More Commonly than Women to the Needle”: Annie Wittenmyer and Soldiers’ Aid
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BITS AND PIECES of information about Annie Wittenmyer's life prior to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 combine to present the impression of an energetic, well-to-do merchant's widow in the town of Keokuk, Iowa, long dedicated to local benevolent activities. Perhaps it is to be expected, then, that thirty years after the war ended, in her preface to Under the Guns: A Woman's Reminiscences of the Civil War, Wittenmyer addressed the commencement of her wartime activities in soldier relief in a rather mundane tone, as if to suggest...
Iowans and the Politics of Race in America, 1857–1880
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THIS STUDY is about "life at the extremity of a culture," as V. S. Naipaul so skillfully characterizes the American frontier.1 It examines white racism on the notoriously racist Middle Border in the era of the Civil War. In those years every state and territory in the Union, whether initially free or slave, whether embracing large or small numbers of African-Americans, whether located in the North or the West or the South itself, had to confront...
Town Development, Social Structure, and Industrial Conflict
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RAILROAD EXPANSION in late nineteenth-century America accelerated the settlement process and extended it continentwide. Within twenty-five years, from 1865 to 1890, a dense fabric of railroad lines was woven across the lands west of the Mississippi. This expansion created a profound demand for labor to construct, operate, and maintain these new roads. It opened new territories to settlement, provided a transportation mode for the massive relocation of population, and created truly national markets for manufactured goods. This growth,...
Iowa’s Struggle for State Railroad Control
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THE ORDEAL OF RAILROAD REGULA TION grew out of hundreds of clashes between local commercial and political interests and the advancing national railroad systems. A recurrent problem from before the Great Rebellion to the First World War, the American railroad question produced a swamp of economic confusion and popular hostility apparently without bottom. First the pro rata movements of the East, then the Granger outbreak in the Middle West reflected local outrage at the introduction of new competition that was favored ...
Why the Populist Party Was Strong in Kansas and Nebraska but Weak in Iowa
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AS THEY APPROACHED THE ELECTION OF 1892, leaders of the newly-formed People's party professed optimism. James B. Weaver, the party's presidential candidate, proclaimed in late August, "The whole group of States west of the Missouri is with us and the tide is sweeping eastward." Another prominent Populist predicted that the new party would carry more states than Cleveland or Harrison. 2 The results of the November balloting, however, proved that these hopes had been too sanguine. The Populist party was strong in the...
Iowa, Wet or Dry? Prohibition and the Fall of the GOP
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IN 1888 the Midwest remained a Republican stronghold. The GOP controlled all six governorships and five of the congressional delegations; only Indiana was at all doubtful. Imminent success for the Democrats in any of the states would have seemed absurd. Yet all of the governors and congressional delegations elected in 1889 and 1890 would be Democratic- it would be one of the most spectacular, and short-lived, political reversals in American history...
To Whom Much Is Given: The Social Identity of an Iowa Small Town in the Early Twentieth Century
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HISTORIAN JOSEPH W ALL writes that "there is a smugness of attitude within the small town that is a constant source of exasperation to the farmer and of bemused wonder to the city dweller."} Jefferson residents at the tum of the century would have been startled to hear themselves called smug, or self-satisfied to an unwarranted degree. Of course, if pressed, they would have admitted that it was true that in literate, white, Anglo-Saxon, evangelical Protestants converged the highest evolutionary forms thus far produced by the most...
Rural Iowa in the 1920s and 1930s
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IN THE 1920s, Iowa's farm population was of two minds about its rural way of life. On one hand, farm families lived much as their parents and grandparents had before them, carrying on the time honored tradition of the "favored man of God," comfortable with the rural institutions which had served them well for many decades. But on the other hand, increasingly farm families realized the social deficiencies of rural living. By the 1920s, town society had so outdistanced rural society in regard to modern conveniences and social/cultural...
World War II and Rural Women
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ELIZABETH WHERRY, a rural Iowa woman with a son in the service during World War II, wrote this line in her "Country Air" column, a weekly feature of Wallaces' Farmer. From 1941 to 1945, news of the war appeared on virtually every page of this popular Iowa farm journal, in the form of editorials, letters from readers, articles, or advertisements. In Open Country, support for World War II and especially for the local "boys" in the service was a sine qua non; other issues became secondary concerns against this central goal. Just as with the rest of American society at this time, World War II...
The Modernization of Iowa’s Agricultural Structure in the Twentieth Century
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THROUGHOUT THE TWENTIETH CENTURY agriculture has been undergoing a modernization whose primary goal is the substitution of technology for human labor. Supporters of modernization see agriculture as a business and believe that, like any other industry, it is driven by the profit motive. This philosophy stands in opposition to an agrarian tradition whose advocates believe strongly that farming is a way of life and that the people who live on the land, and the land itself, should be given highest priority in the formulation...
The Evolution of the Iowa Precinct Caucuses
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IOWA'S EMERGENCE as a weather vane in presidential politics is a recent development. Prior to 1972, the Iowa caucuses were just another electoral event in the middle of the national caucus and primary schedule. When the Iowa Democratic Party decided to schedule their caucuses in January rather than March or April, they began a chain of events which resulted in the caucuses becoming a national phenomenon....
Iowa’s Abortion Battles of the Late 1960s and Early 1970s: Long-term Perspectives and Short-term Analyses
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THE FIRST SESSION of the Iowa territorial legislature passed a general criminal code that contained language designed to permit the punishment of people who poisoned their fellow citizens. Among the poisons proscribed were abortifacients.1 That section of the original territorial code proved to be the first formal mention of abortion in Iowa law. When the territorial code was revised in 1843, the attempt to abort a pregnant woman by any means (not just by poisons) became criminal, but only if the attempt was made after...
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MANY PEOPLE have provided support, offered criticism, or acted as sounding boards as I have prepared this collection of essays. I would not have completed it without them. Bill Silag offered encouragement and sound advice when I first proposed the idea in 1993. Laura Moran continued to support meand my proposal after she joined Iowa State University Press. Rebecca Conard,...
Publication Year: 2008