For decades, the story of the American West has been told as a glorious tale of conquest and rugged individualism--the triumph of progress. But recently, a new school of historians has challenged this view, creating what is known as the "new western history," an approach that gives a central role to the environment, native peoples, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few. Foremost among these historians is Donald Worster. In Worster's writings, the western past emerges not as a march of Manifest Destiny but rather as an unfolding relationship between humankind and nature.
In Under Western Skies, Worster provides an eloquent introduction to the changing traditions of western historical writing and then demonstrates his own approach through fascinating case studies. For example, he takes a hard look at the struggle by the Lakota to regain ownership of the Black Hills, examining not only the legal history of treaties and court cases but also the importance of the Black Hills in Indian religion and the way they have been mismanaged by the U.S. government. He discusses the cowboy in terms of the new ecology that arose from livestock ranching--the endless miles of fences, the changes in the environment wrought by extensive grazing, certain species of animals almost wiped out because they were considered a danger to sheep and cattle. But Worster's view of nature is not as simple or as, linear as for instance, Bill McKibben's stark picture in The End of Nature, a picture Worster argues against. From the mining ghost towns of the Rockies to the uprooted farm families of the Dust Bowl, nature sometimes wins the struggle. Even the Hoover Dam, he reminds us, may one day be overcome by the patient Colorado River.
Under Western Skies both offers intriguing insights into important aspects of our history and instills a new appreciation for the place of nature, native peoples, and the struggles over money and power in the western past.
"A thoughtful, sensible collection...Worster reminds us that unlimited freedom and power are dangerous goals; both must be limited if the West's delicately balanced ecology is to endure."--Publishers Weekly
"Donald Worster is the dean of American environmental historians and one of our leading interpreters of the American West. He writes with the passion of a native son and offers perspectives that are as profound as they are provocative on the major environmental questions that have shaped the region's past and will define its future. Under Western Skies is a major contribution by a major scholar."--William Cronon, Yale University
"Donald Worster's honesty, critical intelligence, and talent for writing will prove to be three of the American West's most valuable resources in the late twentieth century. If Americans read this book and take it seriously, our prospects for living wisely and responsibly in this region will instantly brighten."--Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of The Legacy of Conquest
"Donald Worster is a brilliant social historian. Under Western Skies is insightful, incisive, useful, and necessary. And a terrific read--vivid and compelling."--William Kittredge
"Worster writes clearly and with passion...He provides food for thought about the West's past and future."--Gateway Heritage
"No one is a more powerful spokesman for the New Western History than Donald Worster, and no western historian is a better storyteller. He writes with passion and eloquence, with deep concern for the future of the region as well as its past. Readers will find these essays thoughtful, stimulating, and contentious."--Great Plains Quarterly
"A probing set of essays of particular interest to graduate students because Worster poses research questions and describes patterns of previously published research. These essays never fail to meet Worster's previously established high standards for research and writing."--Barbara Handy-Marchello, University of North Dakota
"It's a case of man and mountain matching one another: Donald Worster is one of the finest American historians of his generation, and John Wesley Powell one of the most impressive Americans of his time. This book is very readable, very thorough, and very welcome."--Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, Crazy Horse and Roads