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Reviewed by:
  • History of Nebraskaby Ronald C. Naugle, John J. Montag, and James C. Olson
  • Mark R. Ellis
Ronald C. Naugle, John J. Montag, and James C. Olson, History of Nebraska, Fourth Edition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. 568 pp. $35.00.

The History of Nebraskahas long been the standard textbook for students studying the history of the Cornhusker state in university classrooms and for the general public who are interested in their state’s history. Authored by James C. Olson, a university trained and noted historian, this book placed Nebraska’s history within the context of larger national events and helped set the standard for the acceptance of state and local histories as recognized academic scholarship. First published in 1955 to commemorate the centennial of the creation of Nebraska Territory, the book is now in its fourth edition and continues to attract an academic and popular audience.

Olson had a long academic career in Nebraska before moving to Missouri where he eventually became the president for the University of Missouri system. While in Nebraska he served the university as history professor, department chair, and vice chancellor while he also headed the Nebraska State Historical Society for more than a decade. An accomplished scholar, Olson wrote a biography of J. Sterling Morton and Red Cloud and the Sioux Problem, a classic book on the Plains Indians and their relations with the federal government. In writing the History of Nebraskaand the subsequent update, Olson relied heavily on the research of graduate students at the University of Nebraska who wrote dozens of theses and dissertations on various aspects of Nebraska’s history. Olson recognized graduate student contributions in his first edition but their largely unpublished efforts have been for-gotten in subsequent editions.

Olson released a second edition History of Nebraskain 1967 as the state celebrated 100 years of statehood. He made slight updates to cover historical developments since the 1955 publication and added a useful bibliographic essay at the end of the book, but overall the organization, content, and interpretation remained true to the first edition. For almost thirty years the second edition served as the primary text on Nebraska’s history, but by the 1990s the History of Nebraskawas either ready to be retired or revised. The University of Nebraska Press decided to keep the text in print and called on Professor Ronald C. Naugle of Nebraska Wesleyan University to revise and update the Olson classic. Published in 1997 in the wake of the 125-year anniversary of statehood, Naugle described the third edition as a “modest reorganization and infusion of new material throughout the work.” The new [End Page 181]edition was really much more than that. Naugle brought the Olson text up to date by renaming and reorganizing chapters to accommodate the social and cultural changes in post-1960s America and incorporating scholarship produced since the second edition, particularly material on race, gender, and ethnicity. An updated and comprehensive “Suggestions for Further Reading” became the go-to bibliographic guide on all topics Nebraska for students and researchers alike.

Almost twenty years after Naugle’s revision, the University of Nebraska Press released the fourth edition of History of Nebraskaas the state approached its sesquicentennial celebration. With Olson passing away in 2005, Naugle brought in a third contributor, John J. Montag, emeritus professor of library and information technology at Nebraska Wesleyan to help bring the new edition up to date. Those who are intimate with the earlier editions will notice that Naugle and Montag did some significant revisions. Chapters have been reorganized, combined, and in many cases renamed. The authors made significant revisions on Native American history that was made possible by including the scholarship of noted scholars David Wishart, Pekka Hämäläinen, and Colin Calloway. While much of the material from statehood to the late nineteenth century remains the same, the authors made noticeable revisions in the pre-territorial period and the post-Cold War era. The final chapter of the third edition, which was really just snapshots of post-1980s events, has been expanded in the fourth edition to deal more thoroughly with economic, political, and environmental issues that...