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Kansas History - Autumn 2015

Kansas History, Autumn 2015(Volume 38, Number 3)

Erika J. Pribanic-Smith, “The Shooting of Jason Clarke Swayze: Libel, Press Freedom, and Editorial Civility in 1870s Kansas”

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Jason Clarke Swayze, founder and editor of the Topeka Blade, died from a gunshot wound on March 27, 1877, after a two-year feud that encompassed Swayze’s Blade as well as the Topeka Times and Commonwealth. Taken in total, the shooting, its causes, and its aftermath raise questions about libel, press freedom, and editorial civility in post-bellum Kansas. The incident, according to Erika Pribanic-Smith, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Arlington, demonstrates that Topeka had little tolerance for personal journalism by the 1870s, refuting some Kansas historians’ generalizations about the state’s press. The town’s newspapers reflected broader nineteenth-century journalistic trends, especially the “new journalism” developed by other midwestern editors. Rather than indulging in invective and sensationalism to sell newspapers, most Topeka editors preferred to focus on objective news and functioned as town boosters. Invective did exist, however, and because libel suits seldom worked, some spurned subjects chose to take the law into their own hands, posing a threat to press freedom.

Keith L. Sprunger, “Old Main at Kansas Colleges: Splendor, Survival, and Loss”

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When launching a new Kansas college, the founders made erecting an impressive building a high priority. This original building, an iconic symbol of the college, was often known as “Old Main.” These temples of learning, usually the most remarkable buildings of the community, became Kansas architectural landmarks. In “Old Main at Kansas Colleges,” Keith L. Sprunger, Oswald H. Wedel Professor of History Emeritus at Bethel College, surveys these building—some surviving, some lost—and the role that they played in college life at ten central Kansas colleges. In every case, the building presented a splendid face to the college, reflecting the desire to be an institution of distinction. Time has taken its toll, and today only three of these mighty structures survive at the colleges. Some have been lost to fire and storms, and others, downgraded in esteem, have been pulled down in favor of more modern architecture.

Christopher W. Shaw, “‘Of Great Benefit’: The Origin of Postal Service for Blind Americans”

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In 1899 blind Americans gained the right to mail letters at reduced postage rates. Mailing letters had been comparatively more expensive for blind people, because systems of embossed writing—such as Braille and New York Point—required sheets of paper that were thicker and heavier than standard writing paper. Kansas Populist Mason S. Peters Sr. shepherded this postal reform through Congress. According to Christopher W. Shaw, a visiting lecturer of history at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Preserving the People’s Post Office, the 1899 “act regulating the postage on letters written by the blind” expressed Populists’ concern for society’s more vulnerable members and their advocacy of government programs that promoted social welfare.

Steve Marston, “Spectacles of Speed: Masculinity, Modernity, and Auto Racing in Kansas, 1909–1918”

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In the earliest decades of the twentieth century, Kansas culture was transformed by the expansion of new technologies, from telephone communication to automobile travel, which generated excitement and anxiety regarding the effects of such developments on day-to-day life. Emerging from the twinned growth of machinery and speed, automobile racing grew as a public spectacle that offered onlookers the opportunity to experience the sometimes-terrifying thrills of modernity. “Spectacles of Speed,” by Steve Marston, a PhD candidate in the Department of American Studies at the University of Kansas,addresses the cultural significance of auto racing in early twentieth-century Kansas, particularly as constructed through local newspapers, which were crucial producers of the narratives that framed auto races within particular themes. Marston addresses two such themes: first, writers presented auto races as evidence of a modernizing Kansas, reflected by exceptional technological achievement and the arrival of competitors and spectators from beyond the state’s borders. Second, within this narrative of modernity, the near-unanimity of male drivers facilitated the construction of drivers as representative of the “rugged,” performed masculinity that had broadly grown in the U.S. around the turn of the century.

Book Reviews

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Following in His Steps: A Biography of Charles M. Sheldon
by Timothy Miller
xix + 285 pages, illustrations, notes, index.
Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987, paper $25.95.
Reviewed by Heath W. Carter, assistant professor of history, Valparaiso University, Indiana.

The Other Trail of Tears: The Removal of the Ohio Tribes
by Mary Stockwell
xi + 388 pages, illustrations, notes, index.
Yardley, Pa.: Westholme Publishing, 2014, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by Brandi Hilton-Hagemann, assistant professor of history, Doane College, Crete, Nebraska.

Coronado’s Well-Equipped Army: The Spanish Invasion of the American Southwest
by John M. Hutchins
xvii + 374 pages, notes, illustrations, map, bibliography, index.
Yardley, Pa.: Westholme Publishing, 2014, cloth $29.95.<
Reviewed by Thomas D. Isern, professor of history, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota.

The Great Medicine Road, Part I: Narratives of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, 1840–1848
edited by Michael L. Tate
339 pages, notes, illustrations, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014, cloth $39.95.
Reviewed by Melody M. Miyamoto Walters, professor of history, Collin College, McKinney, Texas.

The National Council on Indian Opportunity: Quiet Champion of Self-Determination
by Thomas A. Britten
ix + 337 pages, notes, illustrations, index.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014, cloth $45.00.
Reviewed by Ray Nolan, PhD candidate, Kansas State University, Manhattan.

Railroad Empire across the Heartland: Rephotographing Alexander Gardner’s Westward JourneyGood for you by James E. Sherow, photographs by John R. Charlton
x + 212 pages, illustrations, index.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014, paper $34.95.
Reviewed by Tom Schmiedeler, professor of geography, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas.

The 'People's Joan of Arc': Mary Elizabeth Lease, Gender Politics, and Populist Party Politics in Gilded-Age America
by Brooke Speer Orr
316 pages, notes, index.
New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2014, cloth $91.95.
Reviewed by Rebecca Edwards, Eloise Ellery Professor of History, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York.

Book Notes

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