Appears In

Illinois State is proud to be able to acknowledge the work of graduates who are successful authors.

If you’ve written a book that has been released by a publishing house within the past decade, submit it for review by Professor Emerita of English JoAnna Stephens Mink ’73, M.S. ’75, D.A. ’85.

All books authored by alums will be added to a collection of work by other graduates on display in the Alumni Center. Autographed copies are especially appreciated.

Please send your book to Illinois State editor Susan Blystone at Illinois State Alumni Center, 1101 N. Main Street, Normal, IL 61790. Inquiries can be sent to

frontier book coverMythic Frontiers: Remembering, Forgetting, and Profiting with Cultural Heritage Tourism

By Daniel R. Maher. Cultural Heritage Series. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016. 312pp.

Summary: Most adults of a certain age remember playing games such as Cowboys and Indians, and watching TV series such as The Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke, as well as John Wayne movies at the Saturday matinee—all contributing to our juvenile perceptions of the American Wild West. Indeed, images of the West have permeated our childhoods and our culture. And so it was for Daniel Maher.

Maher explains in “The Significance of the Frontier Complex in American History,” the opening chapter of Mythic Frontiers, “these popular, iconic representations of the Wild West frontier continue to constitute a ‘frontier complex’ in our national imagination.”

Indeed, opines Maher, frontier social history was “much more complex and nuanced than the binary possibilities contained in such egregiously essentializing … narratives told in pulp fiction, on television shows, and on the movie screen.”

During the 1950s and 1960s, “frontier fever” swept the nation as tourists flocked to Disney’s Frontierland (opened in 1955), Oklahoma City’s Frontier City (1958), and Frontier Town in Ocean City, Maryland (1959). These and present-day frontier amusement parks gave the tourists what they wanted to see: stereotypical images from their favorite TV shows and movies.

Ultimately, “tourismification” resulted. Disneyland’s commitment to historical accuracy is far different from that put forth by a National Historic Site. The national narrative was white and male.

Maher says, “The continued growth of frontier tourism in the 1950s and ’60s was not only legitimating the imperialism of the past but also reinforcing binary images against the new enemy, the Soviet Union … and communism” (18). The definition of American cultural heritage became fluid, as is always the case when historical events are depicted to the present populace.

After the general discussion in his opening chapter, Maher focuses on his primary subject in “The Frontier Complex in Fort Smith, Arkansas.” Subsequent chapters about Fort Smith include “The Peacekeeper’s Violence,” “The Hanging Judge’s Injustices,” “The Invincible Marshal’s Oppression,” “The Hello Bordello and Brave Men Matrix,” and “Performing ‘Frontier in the Attic.’” His final chapter, “Doubling Down on the Wager of Frontier Tourism,” is reflexive of his opening commentary in his discussion of how museums in various states have capitalized on the public’s interest in the American Frontier.

Mythic Frontiers is an engaging dialogue about the Fort Smith site, about the understanding of American frontier history, and ultimately, about how historical events and perceptions are adapted for current popular consumption. The detailed Index and extensive Bibliography supplement this interesting discussion.

About the Author: Daniel R. Maher ’90, M.S. ’92, is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas–Fort Smith, where he has taught since 1997. He has received several university awards and has served as director of the Fort Smith Multicultural Center.

furs and farms book coverFrom Furs to Farms: The Transformation of the Mississippi Valley, 1762-1825

John Reda. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2016. 212pp.

Summary: From Furs to Farms analyzes the history of the Illinois Country—the area that would become the states of Illinois and Missouri—during the late-18th through the early-19th centuries. John Reda uses secondary sources as well as primary, such as newspapers, land records, travel narratives, journals and private correspondence. Thus, his monograph is firmly based on contemporary documents as well as historical scholarship.

The economy of the Illinois Country was based on the fur trade in the 18th century, explains Reda in his Introduction. Some of the inhabitants were farmers, but commercial agriculture did not begin replacing the fur trade until the 19th century. From Furs to Farms focuses on this change. It is the chronicle of a specific place and time, not a recounting of national expansion into the West.

However, for political and economic reasons, as the fur trade expanded and farming became more significant, several important changes occurred in the Illinois Country.

Surprisingly, no public land sales occurred either in Illinois or in Missouri until 1814; therefore, land acquisitions involved colonial grants from France, Spain and Great Britain, and military grants issued after the American Revolution. Efforts to acquire land affected Indian policy, slavery and sovereignty in new ways.

The most recent generation of scholarship has altered historians’ view of Indians during this period, but it has not affected the basic story of the opening of the Old Northwest. Reda explains, “Formal Indian removal also took place in the Illinois Country outside of the standard narrative timeline” in the 1830s. Moreover, the connection between slavery and the price of land was extremely important to settlers. The federal government’s reluctance to assist in displacing Indians angered Missourians to the extent they would not even consider restricting slavery.

Chapter One provides background information on the period leading up to the Louisiana Purchase. Its effect is explored in Chapter Two. Chapter Three examines the effects of the wars of 1812, and the interplay between Indians and white traders and white settlers. The process to statehood is analyzed in Chapter Four, and the final chapter focuses on post-statehood political battles as they affected Indian treaties and slavery.

A detailed Index and a Selected Bibliography augment the extensive Notes in Reda’s discussion. From Furs to Farms should provide much information in furthering knowledge about the history of Illinois and Missouri.

About the Author: John Reda is an assistant professor of history at Illinois State University. He specializes in colonial American history and the history of the Early American Republic.

oregon kids book coverThe Oregon Kids: The Big Catch

Bob Richley. Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing, 2016. 28pp.

Summary: The Oregon Kids describes an important learning experience when Billy and his younger sister Autumn take a two-week camping trip with their parents. Billy is super-excited because he will have the chance to fish on the nearby lake, which he loves to do.

Sadly, Billy’s dad insists that Autumn come fishing, too. Moreover, he expects Billy to put the worm on her hook! This dilemma is a lesson in patience, his dad explains. And Billy needs all the patience he can muster, especially when he has to climb a tree in order to retrieve Autumn’s line due to her poor casting.

Later, when it’s time to return to camp, Billy sees how sad Autumn is. He had already caught three big fish and Autumn none when the biggest fish ever is hooked on Billy’s line. Having learned his lesson well, Billy offers to let Autumn reel it in.

Nicely illustrated by Hilbert Bermejo, Richley’s story will appeal to children with younger siblings, even if they do not like to fish as much as Billy does.

About the Author: Robert Richley ’88 has for years volunteered in children’s ministry, promoting good values and a love of reading. He and his wife live in Thornton, Colorado.