Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Haunted by Waters (a book plug)

Today a friend of mine told me about a book that is soon to be released by Professor Robert Hayashi, an acquaintance I *briefly* knew while I was doing a stint at Mount Holyoke College (Robert was finishing up his dissertation in American Studies at UMass Amherst). Anyway, his book, soon to be released by University of Iowa Press, is called Haunted by Waters and this is a description from the publisher:

"Even though race influenced how Americans envisioned, represented, and shaped the American West, discussions of its history devalue the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities. In this lyrical history of marginalized peoples in Idaho, Robert T. Hayashi views the West from a different perspective by detailing the ways in which they shaped the western landscape and its meaning.

As an easterner, researcher, angler, and third-generation Japanese American traveling across the contemporary Idaho landscape—where his grandfather died during internment during World War II—Hayashi reconstructs a landscape that lured emigrants of all races at the same time its ruling forces were developing cultured processes that excluded nonwhites. Throughout each convincing and compelling chapter, he searches for the stories of dispossessed minorities as patiently as he searches for trout.

Using a wide range of materials that include memoirs, oral interviews, poetry, legal cases, letters, government documents, and even road signs, Hayashi illustrates how Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian, all-white, and democratic West affected the Gem State’s Nez Perce, Chinese, Shoshone, Mormon, and particularly Japanese residents. Starting at the site of the Corps of Discovery’s journey into Idaho, he details the ideological, aesthetic, and material manifestations of these intertwined notions of race and place. As he fly-fishes Idaho’s fabled rivers and visits its historical sites and museums, Hayashi reads the contemporary landscape in light of this evolution."

It sounds like a very interesting book, and on a professional/academic note, I am interested in seeing how he incorporates his own personal reflections and family memoir into this study of the American West and race relations. Although I haven't read it yet, it has a compelling premise--to think about the ways in which race has always been a part of our understanding of the American landscape, both its geographic terrain as well as its social topography. I think it's easy to think of places that seem largely *white* and absent of people of color and imagine that they were always all-white spaces or not to realize that whiteness is a itself a racial category, one often marked by its difference to others. Anyway, I think the book looks promising and if you are in the mood for something that combines the personal with the academic, this may be a good read.

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