Explorers of the American West: Mapping the World through Primary Documents. By Jay H. Buckley and Jeffrey D. Nokes. Mapping the World through Primary Documents. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2016. 321 pages. Acid free $100 (ISBN 978-1-61069-731-6). E-book available (978-1-61069-732-3), call for pricing.

Buckley and Nokes have brought together a thoughtful selection of primary sources from the early explorers of the American West, organized around famous expeditions of explorers such as Lewis and Clark, Stephen Long, and John Wesley Powell. Each chapter includes a biography of the explorer featured in the chapter, and approximately ten selected excerpts of primary sources that usually run a page or two in length. Each excerpt has an introductory paragraph that provides historical context for the excerpt, and a few paragraphs of analysis that go beyond summarization and point toward the historical significance of the primary texts.

The work includes one female source in Susan Shelby Magoffin and one African American source that is also sensitive to American Indian perspectives in James P. Beckwourth. This is an appreciable attempt at an element of diversity in a historical arena that includes mostly white men: expedition leaders of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The work includes a useful, selected chronology of the exploration of the West that runs from the foundation of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670 to the death of John Wesley Powell in 1902. It also includes a thorough index of entries that are mostly historical people, American Indian tribes, geographic formations and locations, historical professions, events such as battles, wild and domestic animals and plants, and a few other entries.

The real value of this work is as a teaching tool. The primary sources are selected to be interesting and readable. Taken together they paint a picture of a time when the very little was known about the interior of the continent to those back east. They serve to educate and to pique curiosity.

The analytical paragraphs conscientiously teach about the processes of responsible historical research, using the primary texts to illustrate these. In particular, they communicate the importance of context and provide examples of ways in which historians make use of primary texts. They do so in a way that is neither condescending nor detached.

One could easily imagine a ten-week course using this work as its text book, that introduces this interesting period in American history while also teaching about the responsible use of primary sources in historical research.

One could imagine reading this book cover-to-cover with great interest, studying this work as a text book, or browsing the work in a leisurely fashion. It is accessible to all these pursuits.

Compared to Sara Pendergast’s Westward Expansion: Primary Sources (UXL 2000), Buckley and Nokes’s work is geared toward a slightly more advanced reader, as Pendergast’s work is for an adolescent audience. Explorers of the American West is more appropriate for lower division undergraduate students or advanced secondary students.

This attractive and convenient hardcover volume would be appropriate for a reference collection, a browsing collection, or among textbooks.—Steven R. Edscorn, Executive Director of Libraries, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, Oklahoma


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