Penn State

John R. Haddad - Professor of American Studies and Popular Culture, Penn State Harrisburg

Book Title: The West of the Imagination

Author: William Goetzmann

Book Description:

During my doctoral years, I was privileged to have the late William Goetzmann as my dissertation chair.  This book, West of the Imagination, taught me a lot about my field, American studies, and academic publishing. Though historians excel at telling us what happened, this book reminds me what American studies is good at: explaining how the human mind converts what happened into intellectually usable memories, myths, and legends. Indeed, this is a book about how artists and filmmakers created a whole new American mythology by passing their experiences out West through the prisms of their own imaginations. The book also convinced me of the large importance storytelling can play in academic writing. Readers, Goetzmann intuitively understood, dislike cold abstraction because it can render history sterile. They far prefer to access the past through the stories of colorful characters courageously changing the world with their actions. In short, there is a heroic spirit animating Goetzmann's work that I hope to capture for my own scholarship and teaching.

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