Book Review: Becoming Oregon

Becoming Oregon:  From Expedition To Exposition, edited by Robert Lewisohn Hamm

I picked up this book when I visited the Oregon History Trail Museum some months ago [1], and upon reading it during my trip back from Estonia, I have to say that this is the sort of book that one is best served as a reader by using it for a reference material for both quirky stories that may have nothing to do with Oregon as well as about the mentality of people about Oregon during the century between the Lewis & Clark expedition and the centenary exposition in 1905 in Portland as it could be found in newspaper editorials and articles, and that is best reviewed by powering through it in as short a time as possible to recognize its occasional sloppy formatting and repetitiveness that would be less noticeale if read over a long time.  If you are the sort of reader who for one reason or another is compelled to read about the politics of the 19th century or the history of the Pacific Northwest [2], and who might have occasion to use it in one’s writing, this book is a worthwhile reference material.  I have a couple of projects it might be of some use in myself, for example.  However, it should go without belaboring the point that this book could have used some extra polishing and there are quite a few examples of repeated articles or repeated paragraphs within articles that could have been cleaned up and made this a slightly slimmer volume than its more than 540 pages of main material exists at present, and like a morbidly obese person, this is a book that could use a diet.

The contents of this book are divided into mainly chronological but also topical ones related to the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Oregon trail, Oregon as a strange and wondrous land, the homesteading and settlement period, the relationship between whites and the local tribes, the conflict with Great Britain, statehood, life out west, and materials related to the Lewis & Clark Exposition.  The articles themselves are included, which range from anonymous letters to the editor to lengthy editorials about matters of local or national or even international importance.  The compiler of this book is clearly not only someone who deeply loves Oregon, but also someone who seeks to place Oregon within its role in the national and even global scene, and there are a few trends which appear over and over again–Oregon as a place for a fresh start, as a place for conflict of various kinds, as a threat to the established order of other regions, as a paradise with seemingly limitless potential, as an infertile and inhospitable wasteland, as a place full of ambitious people caught up in the struggles of their times and full of restless people seeking opportunity.

There is a lot to gain from this book, whether one enjoys the supplementary material or whether one agrees with the editor’s editorializing, something which he comments about heavily concerning the texts included here.  It is hard to tell if the editor is nostalgic about the way that 19th century editors could not avoid moralizing, even when that can retrospectively be judged in poor taste, or whether he is retroactively condemning the same newspaper sources he cites and collates for being too immoral themselves for the sort of perspectives that they provide.  Perhaps the author wants the best of both worlds–to convey a rich and deep collection of materials about Oregon for those who both want to engage in nostalgia about a time when Oregon was somewhat important in the concerns of those who were important in the world as well as those who want to look down on those in the past with a sense of smug superiority based on hindsight.  However one looks at the past, if one has an interest in Oregon as it was seen in the past, this is a good book to look at, even if it obviously a flawed book even given its own modest aims and ambitions.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: Becoming Oregon

  1. Pingback: Game Review: The Oregon Trail Card Game | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Treasured Grace | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Correspondence Relating To The Massacre of Immigrants | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Oregon’s Names | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Enemy Never Came | Edge Induced Cohesion

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