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172 Western American Literature And finally, Let My People Know is important because it is not only a history of American Indian journalism, but it is a history of self-determina­ tion; it is a record of tremendous struggles by educated and informed people who have been witnesses to the manifold social and economic injustices around them and besetting their ways of life and who have fought back in ways that intelligent men and women have done so often in the past — by insisting that their story will be told and that they will be heard. GEARY HOBSON, Alexander, Arkansas The Ambidextrous Historian: Historical Writers and Writing in the Ameri­ can West. By C. L. Sonnichsen. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981. 127 pages, $9.95.) The Ambidextrous Historian is a collection of short essays in which the author reflects about his experience in western American studies. Like Sonnichsen himself, these essays are completely free of cant and stuffiness. They make delightful reading, provoke good thought, and draw one to Sonnichsen personally. Indeed, it was my pleasure to be able to respond with an honest and heated objection when my teenage son, who knows historians but has never read Sonnichsen, glanced at the dust jacket and innocently remarked that “Ambidextrous Historian” should have been “Ambiguous Historian.” Ambiguous Sonnichsen is not. His essays reflect well-fixed values and draw from insights garnered all along the maverick trail he followed from the University of Minnesota to Harvard to the University of Texas at El Paso, where he filled a long and illustrious teaching and writing career. More directly, however, Sonnichsen’s essays are concerned with questions and problems that came full term during his years as publications director for the Arizona Historical Society. Appropriately for one who writes from a historical society rather than from academia, his point of view is that of one who by choice goes his own way, yet somehow rankles at the resulting isola­ tion. The Sonnichsen of these essays is distinctly a historian, yet he is also a poet, folklorist, geographer, small-town buff, and yes, literary academic as well. As befits a west Texas story teller, he is witty and ironic throughout, yet his humor rises above the hollow and bawdy braggadocio of many Texans to humanize his essays and give them subtle meanings. He is of the South­ west in the themes he chooses and in the thrust he gives. Finally, the Sonnichsen of this short book is no period piece. While he is pushing eighty and writes with the gentleness and integrity of an earlier age, he has not receded into the past with advancing years as so many do. His chapters concern themselves with problems that loom from the editorial chair of the state historical journal. He is concerned for history that has suffered too long in “the dark night” of the academic specialist (pp. Reviews 173 3-8). Equally disconcerting are “writers content . . . with making contribu­ tions to history” but who have abandoned its poetry and thus fail to make “you feel” (p. 17 ). The most autobiographical chapters (3 and 6) make a case for the loosening of academic discipline and for an escape from current fads that tend to debunk the figures of history and indeed the very wisdom of being concerned with the past itself. The essential loneliness of Sonnichsen ’s quest for the “forest” of human meaning in academia’s security-seeking wilderness of “trees and sometimes only a branch or a leaf” is apparent in his choice of the term “the poor wayfaring scholar” (p. 26). Yet the desira­ bility of this position is apparent: “He has no fixed academic home and is not obliged to stay in his discipline. He can cover the entire range of subject matter as other scholars could hardly do. His homelessness gives him a very special advantage” (p. 26). Other chapters deal with specifics, including relations between “unanointed chroniclers” (p. 8) and their publishers, the pitfalls of producing books, the need to get “historic objects” or documents past the years when they are “just old-fashioned junk” (p. 78), problems of small research libraries and the “fine art of plagiarism” (pp. 98...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 172-173
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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