Historic Sites and Landmarks That Shaped America: From Acoma Pueblo to Ground Zero. Edited by Mitchell Newton-Matza. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 2016. 2 vols. Acid free $189 (ISBN 978-1-61069-749-1). E-book available (978-1-61069-750-7), call for pricing.

This new work explores 260 celebrated locations of historical import in the United States. A unique publication, the only similar undertaking in the recent past is Thomas W. Paradis’s The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Landmarks (Lorenz 2011). This older Lorenz edition is not widely held in American academic or public libraries, focuses more on the visual, and also highlights seemingly less-compelling sites such as state capitol buildings, marketplaces, and warehouses. Newton-Matza’s book, on the other hand, hones in on places more widely acknowledged as historically significant, such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Grand Canyon. Other locations included here may be closely associated with major battles or well-known figures of the American past—US presidents, writers, and inventors, for example. The latter type of entry tends to be largely biographical (e.g., the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Virginia) while others focus chiefly on whatever significant event took place there, such as Woodstock or Ground Zero.

The entries, generally about one thousand words long, explain how and why we remember these places today, and also contain cross-references and lists of further reading. Cogently written by scholars from many disciplines, entries explain the history, background, and historical significance of the location, as well as its current condition. Some of these sites can certainly be considered controversial, or at the very least, how we remember them can be complicated and open to differing interpretations. Entries on such sites attempt to take as neutral a stance as possible, leaving ultimate conclusions up to the reader. The shooting of Kent State students in 1970 is one such example. While the entry is unbiased, it only contains about one hundred words on the actual shooting, against about eight hundred devoted to the history of Kent State as an institution and its growth over the years. While this history is interesting and well presented, it actually has nothing to do with the reason the Kent State entry is in the encyclopedia in the first place. It seems that more background information on other events at Kent that fateful weekend that led up to the confrontation, if not a summary of the student protest movement as a whole at that time across the entire nation, would have made for a more appropriate entry. Such a history could certainly be offered without taking sides or making moral judgements. The fact that no attempt whatsoever was made here to do so is a bit disappointing. To be fair, other entries on possibly contentious issues do a better job of confronting conflicting sides—the entries on the Wounded Knee massacre, the Andersonville prison camp of the American Civil War (where many Union prisoners died of disease and starvation) and the Stonewall Inn in New York City, (often considered the birthplace of the gay rights movement)—provide a more focused and satisfying approach.

Other special features of the set include a handful of black and white photographs, a general bibliography of relevant print and electronic resources, thirty-eight primary documents ranging from the First Charter of Virginia (1606) to the USA PATRIOT Act (2001), an appendix listing sites by state, and a detailed subject index.

Overall, this publication sets out to “explain and maintain the importance of specific sites on U.S. history” (xxvii), and it mostly does so. The stated audience here is high school and undergraduate students. In the end, the entries are somewhat cursory to fit a lot of sites in, making this encyclopedia seem most appropriate for public or school libraries, and perhaps too limited for academic libraries.—Mike Tosko, Subject Librarian, The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ALA Privacy Policy

© 2021 RUSA