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Travel, Empire, and Exceptionalism from Manifest Destiny to the Great Depression
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.
Frontier and Nation in Paraguay, 1904–1936
Paraguay’s Chaco frontier, one of the least known areas in one of the least known countries in South America, became the unexpected scene of the bloodiest international war in the Americas, the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia (1932–35).
A picture postcard from the Chaco War era shows a large heart, emblazoned with the word “Paraguayo,” pumping its way through the flat dusty wilderness of the Chaco and leaving a zigzag trail of smashed Bolivian forts and soldiers along the way. This visual propaganda shows why the Paraguayans were sure they would win the war: they were brave, passionate soldiers. They considered themselves invincible descendants of the great hero of the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–70), Marshal Francisco Solano López (El Mariscal).
But Solano López was not universally revered. A controversial figure, he was widely believed to have led Paraguay into economic, social, and cultural ruin. The debate over López’s actions shaped the country’s culture and politics for over a century after the War of the Triple Alliance. Bridget María Chesterton’s in-depth examination of Paraguay’s unique nationalism and the role of the frontier in its formation places the debate over López in the context of larger themes of Latin American history, including racial and ethnic identity, authoritarian regimes, and militarism.
The 1544 Investigation of the Coronado Expedition
Only two years after Coronado’s expedition to what is now New Mexico, Spanish officials conducted an inquiry into the effects of the expedition on the native people Coronado encountered. The documents that record that investigation are at the heart of this book. These depositions are as fresh as today’s news. Published both in the original Spanish and in English translation, they provide an unparalleled wealth of information about the Indians’ responses to the Europeans and the attitudes of the Europeans toward the native peoples.
From the moment he arrived in New Mexico in 1964, Gus Blaisdell (1935–2003) was a legendary presence. Famous in Albuquerque as a writer, teacher, publisher, editor, and especially as the proprietor of the Living Batch bookstore, Blaisdell was also a brilliant critic whose essays influenced readers throughout the country and across the Atlantic. This long-awaited collection of Blaisdell’s critical writings includes essays on literature, art, and film, along with moving tributes by some of the distinguished writers who numbered Blaisdell among their friends. Introductory essays by philosopher Stanley Cavell and literary critic David Morris join colleague Ira Jaffe’s poignant memoir to provide perspectives on the man by friends who knew him well. Glimpses of Blaisdell’s vivid personality can be had from the many photographs included, and the diligently researched chronology compiled by Nicole Blaisdell Ivey tracks the course of her father’s complicated life.
Fray Alonso de Benavides's History of New Mexico, 1630
The most thorough account ever written of southwestern life in the early seventeenth century, this engaging book was first published in 1630 as an official report to the king of Spain by Fray Alonso de Benavides, a Portuguese Franciscan who was the third head of the mission churches of New Mexico. In 1625, Father Benavides and his party traveled north from Mexico City to New Mexico, a strange land of frozen rivers, Indian citadels, and mines full of silver and garnets. Benavides and his Franciscan brothers built schools, erected churches, engineered peace treaties, and were said to perform miracles.
Benavides’s riveting exploration narrative provides portraits of the Pueblo Indians, the Apaches, and the Navajos at a time of fundamental change. It also gives us the first full picture of European colonial life in the southern Rockies, the southwestern deserts, and the Great Plains, along with an account of mission architecture and mission life and a unique evocation of faith in the wilderness.
The Umbanda Religion in Rio de Janeiro
The Umbanda religion summons the spirits of old slaves and Brazilian Indians to speak through the mouths of mediums in trance. Its practitioners worship African gods, often calling them by the names of Catholic saints; simultaneously embrace the concepts of karma, reincarnation, and Christian charity; and believe in the capacities of both modern science and ancient magic. A relatively new religion dating to the beginning of the twentieth century, Umbanda has its origins in Rio de Janeiro and its surrounding urban areas where Afro-Brazilians, many ex-slaves or the descendants of slaves, practiced versions of the religion handed down to them by their ancestors. Umbanda's popularity has grown tremendously over the past century, attracting not only those who seek the assistance of spirits in solving problems in their lives, but those in pursuit of a path to a rich spiritual life and a fellowship of faith and service.
Over the course of nearly a decade, Lindsay Hale spent countless hours attending rituals and festivals and interviewing participants of Umbanda, immersing himself in this fascinating religious world. In describing its many aspects and exploring its unique place within the lives of a wide variety of practitioners, Hale places Umbanda spiritual beliefs and practices within the broader context of Brazilian history and culture.
A Self-Portrait of a People
First published in 1980 and now available only from the University of New Mexico Press, this classic compilation of New Mexico folk music is based on thirty-five years of field research by a giant of modern music. Composer John Donald Robb, a passionate aficionado of the traditions of his adopted state, traveled New Mexico recording and transcribing music from the time he arrived in the Southwest in 1941.
From the Colonial Era to the Present
For twenty-five years, Kendall Brown studied Potosí, Spanish America’s greatest silver producer and perhaps the world’s most famous mining district. He read about the flood of silver that flowed from its Cerro Rico and learned of the toil of its miners. Potosí symbolized fabulous wealth and unbelievable suffering. New World bullion stimulated the formation of the first world economy but at the same time it had profound consequences for labor, as mine operators and refiners resorted to extreme forms of coercion to secure workers. In many cases the environment also suffered devastating harm.
All of this occurred in the name of wealth for individual entrepreneurs, companies, and the ruling states. Yet the question remains of how much economic development mining managed to produce in Latin America and what were its social and ecological consequences. Brown’s focus on the legendary mines at Potosí and comparison of its operations to those of other mines in Latin America is a well-written and accessible study that is the first to span the colonial era to the present.
Four Centuries of Urban Change in Western North America
From the Gulf of Alaska to the Mississippi River and from the binational metropolis of San Diego-Tijuana to the Prairie Province capitals of Canada, Carl Abbott explores the complex urban history of western Canada and the United States.
A Practical Guide to Life in the Wildfire Danger Zone
A fire fighting tool for homeowners and firefighters alike, this guide discusses both the properties of wildfires and ways to minimize damage. Authored by an environmental journalist with advanced degrees in forestry, it is a must-have book designed to help westerners understand the Wildfire Danger Zone.