Monday, April 1, 2013
35: Patricia Limerick's Legacy of Conquest
Much of the book, then, involves dispelling myths of the Old West by retelling the history of the West from a variety of perspectives. Limerick investigates the ideology of Western independence, which can only exist in a national and international context; real estate and property as the emotional center of Western history; and writing mining as labor history. Most importantly - she spends the second half of the book writing a history of the West from Native Americans' perspective. While she pulls from Native sources somewhat, her main strategy is to read Anglo sources from a Native American perspective; the result is a portrayal of resentful people reduced to dependency on a single centralized agency, choosing rationally from among a dwindling number of opportunities.
With this new, synthetic history of the West as a place instead of a mobile frontier or a cowboys-and-indians fantasyland, Limerick argues that the West is a "place undergoing conquest and never fully escaping its consequences," and that "Western history has been an ongoing competition for legitimacy - for the right to claim for oneself and sometimes for one's group the status of legitimate beneficiary of Western resources." In other words, the West has long been shaped by a competition between different ethnic groups for property rights, even as the Western frontier functions as a kind of creation myth for white America. This book thus complicates American narratives of Progress and manifest destiny even as it reclaims the West for historical study.