By Katy TerBerg
Rodeos, shootouts, saloons, and John Wayne?
When you think of the American West, are these the images that come to mind? Why?
WMU professor Dr. Nicolas Witschi reveals in his latest book that the history of the American West is far richer and more complex than the world of “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza.”
Witschi, professor of English at WMU, recently edited and released a book titled “A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). The book has been named by Choice—a literary magazine that selects and publishes 7,000 reviews of literary and academic works annually—as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2011.
“I am of course delighted and honored,” noted Witschi, “even as I’m humbled by the recognition that it is the amazing work of my 32 other contributors who have made the book what it is.”
“A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West” features essays written by leading scholars in western American cultural studies. The book offers a comprehensive approach to cultural expressions originating in the west, and focuses on the challenges found within and between the different historical and cultural groups that define the west’s distinctive regions. It examines the familiar icons and ideas about the west (such as cowboys, wide-open spaces, and violence) and their intersections with urbanization and other regional complexities.
According to the Choice announcement, “Every year, Choice subject editors single out for recognition the most significant print and electronic works reviewed in Choice during the previous calendar year. Appearing annually in Choice’s January issue, this prestigious list of publications reflects the best in scholarly titles and attracts extraordinary attention from the academic library community.”
Composed of more than 35,000 librarians, faculty, and key decision makers, Choice was recommended in an independent survey as “the best short critical evaluations of new titles available anywhere.” It is also worth noting that Witchi’s companion book is far and away the only major text to reflect the current state of scholarship on the American West.
The yearly list is very selective, declaring only 10 percent of more than 7,000 reviewed works to be worthy of the Outstanding Academic Title status which includes:
• overall excellence in presentation and scholarship,
• importance relative to other literature in the field,
• distinction as a first treatment of a given subject in book or electronic form,
• originality or uniqueness of treatment,
• value to undergraduate students, and
• importance in building undergraduate library collections.
Witschi’s list of previous publications on the American West is extensive, and he has written on the culture, history and important figures of the region, and on the ongoing impact the American West continues to have in the United States.