- Contingent Maps: Rethinking Western Women’s History and the North American West ed. by Susan E. Gray, Gayle Gullet
In 1975, nearly a decade before western women’s history emerged as a distinct field of study, Frontiers: The Journal of Women’s Studies published its inaugural issue. Susan Armitage, the journal’s first and longtime editor, provided encouragement and, importantly, a venue for developing scholarship on western women. Susan Grey and Gayle Gullet, co-editors from 2003–2012, continued the tradition of fostering innovative scholarship. Not surprisingly, then, Contingent Maps: Rethinking Western Women’s History and the North American West is a collection of essays, published in Frontiers from 1975–2012, with a mission. Gray and Gullet’s assemblage demonstrates how, by incorporating cultural geography as an analytical category into their work, each scholar has provided innovative insights into the study of western women’s history.
In their introduction, Grey and Gullet provide a concise historiography of theoretical frameworks used by western women historians, covering “anything-but-Turner,” gender, class, race, sexuality, and colonialism. They conclude with the admonishment, “If a generation of Western women’s history has taught us anything, it is to be wary of the ability of any single analytical category to define the field,” and recommend adding cultural geography to the analytical toolbox (10). Gray and Gullet pay particular attention to Doreen Massy’s 1994 edited work, Space, Place, and Gender in which, simply put, space is understood as the varied social relationships that emerge in a particular place during a certain time; place is defined as the alignment of geographic location with ideas and values shared by indigenous peoples or brought into the area by settlers; and gender relationships are formed within a specific place and space.
Gray and Gullet selected essays that, while diverse in place and ethnicity, are set in the modern West, from the late nineteenth-century to post-World War II. The anthology is divided into three sections, each with an introduction that provides context for the essays that follow. The first section, “Identities and Place,” focuses on the creation of western places and identities. Mary Wright’s essay, “The Woman’s Lodge,” beautifully incorporates space, place, and gender in her analysis of women-built and owned lodges for transmitting tradition, self-definition, and powerful gender roles among nineteenth-century indigenous Pacific Northwest Plateau peoples. Section two, “Colonized Places,” delves into indigenous women’s efforts to create and maintain their lives and identities after military conquest. “Ellie Meets the President,” by Laura Jane Moore underscores indigenous women’s difficulties in constructing an “authentic” identity for white tourists while determinedly maintaining their own personal and tribal identity. The third section, “Networks and Place,” examines transnational [End Page 527] networks, created by the West’s entrance into the modern era. Amy Kastely’s “Esperanza v. City of San Antonio: Politics, Power, and Culture,” examines the struggle of a Chicana-organized group to fight for “a vision of cultural rights and a place for such rights in U.S. domestic law” (289).
Contingent Maps: Rethinking Western Women’s History and the North American West is an outstanding anthology. Applying cultural geography to western history may not be new—Wilber Zelinsky’s The Cultural Geography of the United States (Prentice Hall, 1973Prentice Hall, 1992), for example, helped set the groundwork for understanding cultural persistence of immigrant movement into the West, and Massy’s concept of space and place seems implicitly to undergird many works of western history—but Gray and Gullet have repurposed it beautifully. The essays are excellent in their own right; Gray and Gullet’s selection of diverse ethnic experiences, and their ability to thread temporal and analytical similarities together deftly, provide important insights into studying women in the American West.