Re-living the American Frontier
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“This book is a joy to read and a challenge to the settled certainties of cultural history. Impeccably researched, rigorously argued, and profoundly empathetic, it shows historical reenactors as the subjects and agents of change from the rise of fascism in the 1930s through contemporary debates over indigeneity, historical memory, and historical fact.”—Anne Rubenstein, York University
“‘Who owns the West?’ This superbly researched, fascinating study of historical based fandom explores a century of German fans participating in ‘cowboys and Indians’ festivals and American women channeling pioneer life inspired by the Little House on the Prairie series. Reagin expertly charts how these fans navigate the problematic aspects of the imagined worlds they celebrate.”—Kathy Fuller-Seeley, University of Texas at Austin
The historic and mythic elements of the American Old West—covered wagon trains, herds of buffalo, teepee villages, Indigenous warriors on horseback, cowboys on open ranges, and white settlers “taming” a wilderness with their plows and log cabins—have exerted a global fascination for more than 200 years and became the foundation for fan communities who have endured for generations. This book examines some of those communities, particularly German fans inspired by the authors of Westerns such as Karl May, and American enthusiasts of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series.
But the Old West (like all visions of the past) proved to be shifting cultural terrain. In both Germany and the U.S., Western narratives of white settlement were once seen as “apolitical” and were widely accepted by white people. But during the Nazi period in Germany and in East Germany after 1945, the American West was reevaluated and politically repurposed. Then, during the late twentieth century, understandings of the West changed in the U.S. as well, while the violence of white settler colonialism and the displacement of Indigenous peoples became a flashpoint in the culture wars between right and left. Reagin shows that the past that fans seek to recreate is shaped by the changing present, as each new generation adapts and relives their own West.