Publication Date

May 23, 2012

Perspectives Section


As a service to AHA members, we periodically list books by members received in the headquarters office in recent months. These postings are meant to announce their publication and provide short descriptions of the books. These are not reviews. For books to be reviewed in the American Historical Review, they must be sent to the attention of Moureen Coulter, 914 Atwater, Bloomington, IN 47401.

Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of an American Nation
By Jon T. Coleman
Hill & Wang, 272 pages

Here Lies Hugh Glass by Jon T. ColemanHugh Glass momentarily stepped out of his obscurity as a Missouri fur hunter when he was mauled by a bear in 1823. The expedition’s leader, certain that Glass’ vast injuries guaranteed certain death, paid two members of the party to stay behind and bury him. Instead, they abandoned him. Glass miraculously dragged his beaten body two hundred miles to Fort Kiowa to confront his betrayers, and inadvertently became an American archetype.

Jon T. Coleman identifies Glass as an “environmental American,” the product of a mixture of place, nature and gender. The legends that followed Glass’s brush with death “prefigured (and rejiggered) Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis,” and Glass’s mangled frame serves as a reminder of how Turner “erased the bodies of the males he wanted turned from dandies into democrats.” The stories and fantasies that sprung up around men like Glass helped Americans imagine themselves making a nation out of a wilderness. The resulting “Environmental Americanism,” Coleman argues, “created a race of men who absorbed punishment, recasting catastrophe as progress, infirmity as toughness, terror as resolve. Their physical transformations naturalized collective power and exceptionalism.”

Jon T. Coleman is an associate professor of U.S. history at the University of Notre Dame. He received the W. Turrentine Jackson Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize for his 2004 book Vicious: Wolves and Men in America.

Modern Warfare in Spain: American Military Observations on the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939
Edited by James W. Cortada
Potomac Books, 374 pages

Modern Warfare in Spain by James CortadaDuring the Spanish Civil War, American army and navy officers poured an impressive amount of raw data and personal observations into reports for U.S. military review. A large but select sample of those reports is presented here by historian James W. Cortada. “Already aware that Europe might be headed toward a future conflict,” he writes, “in the 1930s officers demonstrated a growing sense of urgency and anxiety to learn about the effectiveness of everything military….” He continues, in his introduction, to argue that the content of the reports and the sheer volume of them “suggest that the interest in the civil war held by military authorities in Europe and the United States exceed what historians might otherwise have thought.”

Remarking on the content of the reports, Cortada notes that in certain instances they may be more reliable than Spanish accounts, as the officers were attempting to sort through Republican and Nationalist propaganda in order to derive objective military lessons from the conflict. He notes that the American observers continually noted the large amount of materiel the Republicans had, which should correct “an impression built up over a half a century by pro-Republican writers that the Republic was starved for ammunition and weapons.”

James W. Cortada started working with these records, most of which can be found in the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs at the National Archives, in 1990. Cortada is the author of a dozen books on Spain, including two on the Spanish Civil War. His presentation at the AHA’s 2010 Annual Meeting on “What Becomes of Print in the Digital Age?” can be viewed on YouTube.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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