What Is a Western?: Region, Genre, Imagination

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University of Oklahoma Press, Sep 26, 2019 - History - 192 pages

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.

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List of Illustrations
The Closing of the Far Eastern Frontier
Exposition 1935
A Posse of Soul Westerns
On The Frisco
On Smoke Signals as a Western
A California Commonist
part five HOMESTEADS
On Joan Didion 17 All Our Values Are Shaken
David Levinthal 198789
Im a Loner a Rebel

The Wonders of Leslie Marmon Silko
Standing Rock and the Museum
Aztlán Cowboys
Charles F Lummis
A Triple Landscape
On Oklahoma
What a River Knows
Seuss in Boots
American Remains
Once upon a Place

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About the author (2019)

Josh Garrett-Davis is the Gamble Associate Curator at the Autry Museum of the American West and the author of the memoir Ghost Dances: Proving Up on the Great Plains.

Patricia Nelson Limerick is Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West and the author of The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West.