Utah Historians and the Reconstruction of Western History
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
368 Pages | 6 x 9 | 5 b&w illus.
Among historians of Utah and the American West, few names have greater resonance than Bernard DeVoto, Dale Morgan, Juanita Brooks, Wallace Stegner, and Fawn Brodie. Each of these writers made enduring contributions not only to our knowledge of the American West but also to our view of the region and its history. In many ways their writing set the standard for scholarship and interpretation, and their influence is still felt today.
Yet they were not flawless. As Gary Topping explains in this, the first comprehensive appraisal of their work, each had serious shortcomings. DeVoto and Stegner, master storytellers, distorted their histories with excessive use of literary and artistic techniques; Morgan, the thorough researcher, failed to see larger contexts and interpretive possibilities; Brooks, courageous in finding damning new information on the Mountain Meadows massacre, stopped short of drawing conclusions that might alienate her from her fellow Mormons; and Brodie, psychobiographer extraordinaire, nonetheless succumbed to reading too much into the lives of her subjects based on her own emotions and conflicts.
All five writers experienced Mormon Utah in the formative stages of their lives and, whether they wanted to or not, fashioned their work on the American West under that indelible influence. Topping shows ultimately how, despite weaknesses, each created exemplary models of diligent research and narrative elegance while establishing new traditions in western historical scholarship.