What Is a Western?
Region, Genre, Imagination
Foreword by Patricia Nelson Limerick
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
There’s “western,” and then there’s “Western”—and where history becomes myth is an evocative question, one of several questions posed by Josh Garrett-Davis in What Is a Western? Region, Genre, Imagination. Part cultural criticism, part history, and wholly entertaining, this series of essays on specific films, books, music, and other cultural texts brings a fresh perspective to long-studied topics. Under Garrett-Davis’s careful observation, cultural objects such as films and literature, art and artifacts, and icons and oddities occupy the terrain of where the West as region meets the Western genre.
One crucial through line in the collection is the relationship of regional “western” works to genre “Western” works, and the ways those two categories cannot be cleanly distinguished—most work about the West is tinted by the Western genre, and Westerns depend on the region for their status and power. Garrett-Davis also seeks to answer the question “What is a Western now?” To do so, he brings the Western into dialogue with other frameworks of the “imagined West” such as Indigenous perspectives, the borderlands, and environmental thinking. The book’s mosaic of subject matter includes new perspectives on the classic musical film Oklahoma!, a consideration of Native activism at Standing Rock, and surprises like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. The book is influenced by the borderlands theory of Gloria Anzaldúa and the work of the indie rock band Calexico, as well as the author’s own discipline of western cultural history.
Richly illustrated, primarily from the collection of the Autry Museum of the American West, Josh Garrett-Davis’s work is as visually interesting as it is enlightening, asking readers to consider the American West in new ways.
Josh Garrett-Davis is the H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western American History at the Huntington Library and the author of the memoir Ghost Dances: Proving Up on the Great Plains.
Patricia Nelson Limerick is Professor of History and Director of the Applied History Initiative at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the author of The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West.
"This provocative and timely study employs local, national, and global perspectives to ask not only what but where the Western is today. Blending humor with careful scholarly study, Josh Garrett-Davis takes readers on a lively tour, showing the unexpected changes and often delightful permutations that have transformed the popular Western in recent years. This book will forever change the way we read, watch, discuss, and enjoy the Western.”—Susan Kollin, editor of A History of Western American Literature
“From cowboy icons to the diverse demography that has always characterized the West, from art, novels, and poems to music, movies, and museums, Josh Garrett-Davis provides a smart, engaging, illuminating, and wonderfully well-written set of takes on the Western genre that will appeal to scholars and students in a wide range of fields, as well as to larger audiences who care about this much contested, imagined, and reimagined region.”—David M. Wrobel, author of America’s West: A History, 1890–1950
“This volume should appeal to scholars and general readers interested in Westerns, popular culture, and American studies, as well as western literature and history…The book is enhanced by the author’s writing style and his knack for illuminating specific items to get at broader themes. Even the illustrations (of artifacts from the Autry Museum of the American West, where Garrett-Davis is a curator) reinforce his ideas.”—Western American Literature
2020 - Center for Study of the American West Award, Outstanding Western Book, Center for Study of the American West - Winner