Neglected Western States
Richard White's otherwise trenchant essay on the treatment of the West in U.S. history (Perspectives, September 1992, p. 1), replicates one of the most disquieting faults of the textbooks he criticizes, in that he only considers the forty-eight contiguous states while overlooking Alaska and Hawaii.
The fact is that in the twentieth century, Alaska and Hawaii have become integral states of the United States of America notwithstanding their noncontiguity. Moreover, they lie even farther West than the Western regions covered by Professor White.
Admittedly many Americans find it difficult to comprehend the full meaning of statehood for this remote pair. American histories, for example, have ordinarily been constructed along linear and chronological sequences from East to West, from early colonial times along the Atlantic seaboard through the winning of independence to transcontinental hegemony and global power at the dawn of the space age. The nation's Western history, as White emphasizes, has unduly suffered.
As wags pointed out at the time of their entry, Alaska and Hawaii should probably not have been admitted as states, because they would never fit comfortably on maps of the United States. It is even geographically doubtful that the Hawaiian Islands, if carefully considered, are a part of North America. President John Tyler, in December 1842, may nevertheless have settled that problem by sheltering the Kingdom of Hawaii within the cloaking protection of the Monroe Doctrine.
In my recent book, The American Pacific from the Old China Trade to the Present (Oxford University Press, 1992), I treated the histories of Alaska and Hawaii as western extensions of the nation's history. Manifest Destiny did not stop at the Pacific Ocean coastlines of California, Oregon, and Washington. Neither has the history of the United States.
Arthur Power Dudden
Katharine McBride Professor
Fairbank Professor in the Humanities
and Professor of History Emeritus
Bryn Mawr College
Tags: Letters to the Editor
Please read our commenting and letters policy before submitting.