University Press Day in Wichita

We’re thrilled to announce a partnership with Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, April 28, 2018. The shop will feature four University Press of Kansas authors at an event starting at 4:00 pm.

Sarah Bagby, Watermark owner, will give a short presentation about the philosophy of the press and it’s importance to Kansas. Then, each author will briefly speak about their works before a question and answer session.

For more information, please contact Watermark Books: (316) 682-1181

Featured authors:

CJ Janovy, No Place Like Home: Far from the coastal centers of culture and politics, Kansas stands at the very center of American stereotypes about red states. In the American imagination, it is a place LGBT people leave. No Place Like Home is about why they stay. The book tells the epic story of how a few disorganized and politically naïve Kansans, realizing they were unfairly under attack, rolled up their sleeves, went looking for fights, and ended up making friends in one of the country’s most hostile states.

CJ Janovy an editor at KCUR, Kansas City’s NPR affiliate.

 

Max McCoy, Elevations: The upper Arkansas River courses through the heart of America from its headwaters near the Continental Divide above Leadville, Colorado, to Arkansas City, just above the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Max McCoy embarked on a trip of 742 miles in search of the rivers unique story. Part adventure and part reflection, steeped in the natural and cultural history of the Arkansas Valley, Elevations is McCoy’s account of that journey.

Max McCoy is professor of journalism and director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University.

 

George Frazier, The Last Wild Places of Kansas: Since the last wild bison found refuge, the public image of natural Kansas has progressed from Great American Desert to dust bowl to flyover country. But look a little harder and you can find the last places where tenacious stretches of prairie, forest, and wetland cheat death. Documenting three years spent roaming the state in search of these hidden treasures, Frazier offers an eye-opening travelogue of nature’s secret holdouts in the Sunflower State.

George Frazier is a software developer and writer.

 

Mark Eberle, Kansas Baseball, 1858-1941: This history spans the years between the Civil Warera and the start of World War II, encapsulating a time when baseball was adopted by early settlers, then taken up by soldiers sent west, and finally by teams formed to express the identity of growing towns and the diverse communities of African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans. As elsewhere in the country, these teams represented businesses, churches, schools, military units, and prisons.

Eberle teaches in the Department of Biological Sciences at Fort Hays State University

Lana Wirt Myers (The Diaries of Reuben Smith) Q & A

In 1854, after recently arriving from England, twenty-two-year-old Reuben Smith traveled west, eventually making his way to Kansas Territory. There he found himself in the midst of a bloody prelude to the Civil War, as Free Staters and defenders of slavery battled to stake their claim. The young Englishman wrote down what he witnessed in a diary where he had already begun documenting his days in a clear and candid fashion. As beautifully written as they are keenly observant, these diaries afford an unusual view of America in its most tumultuous times, of Kansas in its critical historical moments, and of one mans life in the middle of it all for fifty years.

Lana Wirt Myers speaks about her experience editing the book…

When did you first have the idea to work on The Diaries of Reuben Smith?

My first introduction to Reuben Smith’s diaries happened forty years ago when I was a graduate assistant in the Special Collections Department of Wichita State University’s library. While I was organizing the manuscript collection of Kansas poet May Williams Ward, I found an excerpt from her grandfather’s diary describing his voyage from England to America in 1854. It was a fascinating story and once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. Soon after, I learned from one of Ward’s cousins that their Grandfather Smith had written extensive diaries and they were believed to be in the possession of a descendant living in Texas.

Now, fast-forward to 2009 when I was finishing my book Prairie Rhythms, a biographical book about May Williams Ward. I was checking some references at the Kansas Historical Society’s archives when I saw that the complete set of Reuben Smith’s diaries had been acquired and was available for viewing. Of course I had to see them. And I found the stories within them as captivating as the excerpt I’d read back in 1978. I knew then what my next project would be.

Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the book?

When I first began, I honestly had no idea how I was going to present the diaries in the book. I didn’t want the book to be simply a transcription of the diaries; I wanted it to appeal to a general audience, ranging from those who would simply enjoy Smith’s personal stories to those who would appreciate the historical details contained in them. So, I guess you could say it was a bit like letting the fabric speak to the designer or the canvas dictate to the artist. It was a process that kept evolving, and I tried to let the diaries guide me. When I first read through them, I noted some of my own curiosities and what I felt I needed to learn in order to understand who some of the people were and the roles they played, especially during the Civil War years. Gradually, I began to picture my role as one to provide the background for Smith’s stories, offering the necessary information to make the stories more meaningful.

After I finished typing the diaries into a word processing document, I launched into research, especially pertaining to Civil War military history, because I wanted to let readers know what was happening at various times, both nationally and regionally. An added bonus to this was learning so much about where I’d grown up and where my father’s family settled along the western border of Missouri. It truly became a journey for me as well as for the book. During this time, I also began to see that the diaries could be sectioned into categories, or chapters, and not necessarily by years. In addition, I began to see that not every diary entry needed to be included. The significant stories within the diaries are those that provide a new primary resource for early Kansas history.

In all, I spent two and a half years working on the book, including the various editing stages involved in the publishing process.

What was the most challenging aspect of editing the publication?

I’m not sure I can assign “most challenging” to any one aspect, but initially, I had to figure out a workable way to transfer the original diaries to a word processing document. It was a tremendous help to be able to access the diaries through the Kansas Historical Society’s “Kansas Memory” website, but it took some experimenting to figure out a workable way to read from one screen while typing to another. It was a bit tricky working with a desktop computer and a Surface tablet at the same time, using two keyboards and two mouses, but the equipment and I eventually settled into a routine.

Beyond logistics, an ongoing challenge was identifying references in the diaries to unfamiliar names and phrases — ranging from towns, creeks and bridges that no longer exist to the nickname of an insect that was notorious for residing in Missouri soldiers’ tents. I consulted all sorts of unusual and dated resources, even an 1860s military medical guide, to find answers. One of the local interlibrary loan librarians finally asked me, “What ARE you working on?” Some field trips were involved as well. But this historical “digging” was fun, and the little victories were rewarding.

The Diaries of Reuben Smith is a beautiful narrative of Free State settler and Civil War soldier. Smith’s writing is moving and candid. What do you think readers, both from Kansas and across the globe, will find more interesting about his story?

I think Smith provides an unusual perspective, being a young Englishman who formed his political opinions after arriving in the United States, unfiltered by familial or geographical loyalties. And he’s never a bystander; he’s a participant. He gives us personal introductions to key figures, and through his descriptions of what he observes and experiences, we feel as though we are there alongside him. He takes us with him as he encounters border ruffians, wolves and Indians on his way to stake a claim on land in Kansas Territory. And through his writings, we witness the escalation of the Civil War along the Kansas-Missouri border, as well as Smith’s evolution from a civilian volunteer soldier to a seasoned military officer. We can see the process. We can watch as history unfolds.

Smith was an early steward of the Kansas State Insane Asylum. Is there any indication of how he would view the current state of the Larned State Hospital and Osawatomie State Hospital?

I’ve thought about that as I’ve read news articles about the problems facing these institutions, especially Osawatomie State Hospital, since Smith was entrusted with its funds as steward during the early days of its operation. Smith experienced firsthand what the swinging pendulum of politics can do to the state’s institutions. I believe he’d be busy writing letters to newspapers, as well as to legislators, voicing his opinions and proposing solutions.

 If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

I’m going to take the liberty of defining “one person” as all of Smith’s descendants. And that is no small number, since Smith fathered thirteen children, ten of whom lived to adulthood. I can’t imagine a more treasured gift for a father to leave his children and grandchildren than fifty years of his personal history, during which he participated in the settlement and statehood of Kansas, in the fight against slavery, in postwar politics, and in the operation of the state’s first psychiatric hospital. Smith wanted his children to read history as he lived it. And I’m anxious for his many grandchildren to meet him.

What are you reading now?

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Lana Wirt Myers is the author of Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward, named a 2011 Kansas Notable Book.

Following the 2018 Election, pt. 3 – Why Money Matters

by Betty O’Shaughnessy and Dick Simpson, authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century

Trump triumphed in 2016 when he won the Electoral College vote, even

though he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes. We have seen how much this matters in the year since he has become President, which is especially true because the Republicans also won both houses of Congress, allowing President Trump to carry out his platform promises, creating major changes in tax policy, immigration, foreign policy, trade and making Supreme Court and lower court appointments. There is broad resistance to those Trump policies, but by executive orders and the momentum of the first year of his presidency, he continues often to get his way in changing the country’s direction.

Trump’s victorious campaign strategy emphasizing charisma and addressing voters’ anger won out won over that of the less charismatic candidate Hillary Clinton following a careful game plan. Anger in both political parties – as reflected in the Democrats supporting Bernie Sanders and Trump Republican voters – reflected real needs and a high level of discontent.

The recent Illinois primaries were the second national primary elections after those earlier in the month in Texas and they are a harbinger of things to come in November. The biggest battle in 2018 is the attempt of the Democrats to gain 24 seats in the House of Representatives and two seats in the Senate to retake control of one or both houses of Congress in order to block further Trump administration policies.

Results from the Illinois election show higher voter turnout in a greater number of contested elections. Early voting and absentee voting was more than double the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections and the final vote tallies show that 2018 Illinois voter turnout exceeded 30%, as compared to the midterm general election of 2014 when only 16 percent turned out. While not as high a turnout as desirable, these figures show that voters perceived the choices to be important. As is usual in a midterm election, the party out of power was energized, with Democrats voting twice as heavily as Republicans.

The Democratic races were mostly close and interesting. In the gubernatorial race, Pritzker won the Democratic vote easily while Rauner barely beat Jeanne Ives, his opponent in the Republican primary. If we divide the total amount spent by the campaign with his total number of votes, Rauner paid $215 for each vote, and Pritzker paid nearly as much. In the attorney general race, Kwame Raoul defeated former Governor Pat Quinn and six other candidates. In the Cook County assessor race incumbent Democrat Joe Berrios, an ally of controversial Party Chairman Mike Madigan, was defeated by Fritz Kaegi. Significantly, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was elected to Congress and the progressive Latino candidates he supported defeated even incumbent State Legislator Daniel J. Burke, a relative of powerful Chicago alderman Ed Burke.

This sets the stage for the other 2018 elections and the 2020 races to follow, and it is clear that those elections will follow the strategies spelled out in our book, Winning Elections in the 21st Century

21st Century Campaigns: the Increasing Role of Money and Online Data Analyitics

Money

There were other lessons in the 2016 and 2018 elections, specifically, the important roles both money and computer-generated data analytics will play in most future elections. In terms of campaign funding, every election seems to be more expensive than the last. 2016 was one the most expensive elections in American history, with at least $1.3 billion being spent by presidential candidates, $1 billion by candidates for the House of Representatives and $700 million on the U.S. Senate contests. In the most expensive race for Illinois State Legislature in 2016, the candidates spent from $106 to $113 for each of the 20,000 votes they each received.

Nonetheless, any campaign begins with a budget and the contribution that the candidate and his or her family are willing to contribute so you know how much you need to raise, whether it is $10,000 or a million dollars. You could have the best candidate in the world the best campaign theme, and an inferior opponent, and still lose. You have to raise money to be taken seriously as a candidate. To run for alderman or state legislator you have to raise at least $250,000; Congressional races cost over a million dollars, and Statewide races for U.S. Senate or Governor cost tens of millions.

Unless you are independently wealthy like Donald Trump, or the Illinois gubernatorial candidates Bruce Rauner or J. B. Pritzker, you have to raise money from contributors including wealthier individuals and groups like Labor Union or Business PACs. Beyond campaign fundraising parties and web site requests for donations, the primary secret to raising money is to have the candidate personally ask prospects herself. Several hours a day a staff member or volunteer literally places calls for the candidate to the prospect list who have usually received a letter of solicitation beforehand.

Candidates simply hate to do fundraising calls, but even though it seems to them too much like begging, they still have to make the calls every day if they want to be elected. Once elected, our congressional representatives spend from 2-4 hours a day making fundraising calls for their next election.

In addition to the one-on-one fundraising calls to individuals and PAC officials, money is raised by positioning a contribute button prominently on the campaign web site and by sending frequent emails or social media messages to all campaign supporters for smaller campaign contributions from $5 to $500. These small amounts add up; the average campaign contribution to the Bernie Sanders campaign was $27. The secret is that once someone has given online or in person, they can be solicited again and again. These online messages are frequently tested with smaller groups until the campaign determines the most effective “ask” to produce the best results when sent to the entire list of supporters.

In 2018 in Illinois, we had the most expensive gubernatorial primary in American history with Democratic challenger Pritzker spending almost $70 million and Republican incumbent Rauner spending over $75 million; the next three candidates (two Democrats, one Republican) spent over $13 million total. This election alone affirms that we desperately need real public funding of campaigns or “Small D Democracy,” as advocates call it.

Voter Analytics

The second element that 21st century campaigns now include (on top of the traditional campaign strategies) is the increased used of voter analytics with online campaigning. Some of you are Democrats and would never vote for a Republican and some of you are Republicans and would almost never vote for a Democrat. In old Chicago the Democratic precinct captains would know who would vote for their party’s slate of candidates, but now with computer analytic tools anyone with enough money and computer savvy can know.

Take the example of Tea Party conservative David Brat, who ran for Congress in Virginia’s Republican 2014 primary election. With only $200,000 in his war chest, he beat then Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who spent over $5 million in his campaign. Brat simply got more of his people out to vote by using voter analytics to find the voters who could be persuaded to cast ballots against Cantor.

Similarly, Winning Elections tells the story of how now-Illinois State Senator Will Guzzardi was able to use voter analytics in an Illinois state legislative race to defeat Chicago Democratic Party Boss Joe Berrios’ daughter, despite the best efforts of their allies to keep her in the state legislature.

Voter analytics combines information about who voted in each election with personal information gleaned from credit card purchases and Internet browsing, then adds voter responses from campaign contacts. Thus, in a Chicago ward that may have less than 20,000 voters, analytics can find and rank potential supporters your campaign should contact, which in this case would be less than 10,000. The Obama Presidential campaigns used a scale from 1-100 and any voters who scored higher than 65 were “must contacts.” The usual system uses “+”, “—“, and zero symbols or a sample scale of 1-5.

The use of analytics can make easier what is still our two most effective method of delivering the campaign message: door-to-door precinct work and phone canvassing. In both instances, voter analytics finds the potential supporters on which a campaign can focus, and can also provide information on how to best approach them.

Social Media

Voter analytics would not be as effective as it is were it not for the exponential growth of social media. Today, most campaigns have a social media component, which tends to evolve to suit its candidates campaign style in each election. For instance, Hillary Clinton’s campaign at first looked like a media start-up with dozens of staff producing original content. She had a blog anchored by five full-time writers. Meanwhile, Donald Trump sat at his computer and sent out missives with more than 5,000 posts on Twitter in the first few months of the primary campaign which, in turn generated 85 million interactions on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Trump continued this tactic throughout the campaign and election and even now in the White House

Social media campaigns start with a simple looking campaign website with the same colors photos and message as other campaign materials such as brochures and yard signs. Added to that are campaign email lists partly gathered from the web pages of donors, volunteers, and supporters, who are contacted weekly online to contribute, attend events and volunteer. After a campaign has its basic web page and email lists, it establishes social media pages, (at the very least, on Facebook page and Twitter) so that people can follow the campaign and retweet or repost critical messages. For instance, through social media, the Bernie Sanders campaign scheduled 74 phone banking events at homes in the Chicago area, at which volunteers called Iowa voters before the caucuses in February, 2016.

Conclusion

In the end, the 2016 election was one in which the majority of American voted “no!” against the elites and the status quo. There had been more than 4.4 million home foreclosures since the Great Recession began in 2008. There have been no real salary increases for the working and middle class for nearly two decades. Unemployment, especially in ghetto areas and among young adults remains too high. Americans were mad as hell and by their vote they signaled that they weren’t going to take it anymore.

The 2018 election with its turnout twice that of 2014, indicates that voters are still both engaged and divided. On a more positive note, the Texas and Illinois primaries show us that voter participation is up, as are the number of people running for office. How the new and old candidates, Trump supporters and “resisters” alike, reach and motivate these voters is spelled out in Winning Elections in the 21st Century.

 

Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.

Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.

 

From the Backlist; For Linda Brown

Linda Brown Thompson, who as a young girl was the student at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, died in Topeka, Kansas. She was 75. In her honor, we share our book on the landmark case.

Before 1954, both law and custom mandated strict racial segregation throughout much of the nation. That began to change with Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark decision that overturned the pernicious “separate but equal” doctrine. In declaring that legally mandated school segregation was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court played a critical role in helping to dismantle America’s own version of apartheid, Jim Crow.

The study of Brown—the title for a group of cases drawn from Kansas, Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware, and the District of Columbia—offers an insightful and original overview designed expressly for students and general readers. It is concise, up-to-date, highly readable, and very teachable.

The authors, all recognized authorities on legal history and civil rights law, do an admirable job of examining the fight for legal equality in its broad cultural and historical context. They convincingly show that Brown cannot be understood apart from the history of caste and exclusion in American society. That history antedated the very founding of the country and was supported by the nation’s highest institutions, including the Supreme Court whose decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) supported the notion of “separate but equal.”

AP photo

Their book traces the lengthy court litigations, highlighting the pivotal role of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and including incisive portraits of key players, including co-plaintiff Oliver Brown, newly appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren, NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, and Justice Felix Frankfurter, who recognized the crucial importance of a unanimous court decision and helped produce it. The authors simply but powerfully narrate the obstacles these individuals faced and the opportunities they grasped and clearly show that there was much more at stake than educational rights. Brown not only changed the national equation of race and caste—it also changed our view of the Court’s role in American life.

The dramatic story of the road to and from Brown, despite the retrenchments of recent years, needs to be heard anew. As we prepare to commemorate the decision’s fiftieth anniversary in May 2004, this book invites readers to walk that road again and appreciate the lasting importance of what is indisputably a landmark case.

“A wide-ranging and important exploration of how ‘caste’ and ‘culture’ have related to the U.S. Constitution. . . . This thoughtful, wise, accessible, and prize-winning book should be kept in print as an exceptional introduction to the thorny issues that led up to Brown v. Board of Education and its long aftermath.” – Journal of Southern History

Tara Kathleen Kelly (The Hunter Elite) Q & A

At the end of the nineteenth century, Theodore Roosevelt, T. S. Van Dyke, and other elite men began describing their big-game hunting as “manly sport with the rifle.” They also began writing about their experiences, publishing hundreds of narratives of hunting and adventure in the popular press (and creating a new literary genre in the process). But why did so many of these big-game hunters publish? What was writing actually doing for them, and what did it do for readers? In exploring these questions, The Hunter Elite reveals new connections among hunting narratives, publishing, and the American conservation movement.

 

1. When did you first have the idea to write The Hunter Elite?

I started out planning to write about exploration and hunting at the beginning of the twentieth century—originally I wanted to examine how wealthy travelers and their guides interacted on expeditions, and this was a great period to study because there were so many narratives published. The more I read, though, the more interested I got in the narratives themselves, just the sheer number of them, and I started asking why so many hunters and amateur explorers suddenly started writing down and publishing their experiences around the turn of the century. That led me into looking at publishing in that era and thinking about what kinds of stories hunters were selling, why they wrote them at all, what their effect on readers were—and, eventually, what consequences they had. It was an odd shift in perspective, because generally historians use texts like these as sources that tell what happened– “this is what occurred on Roosevelt’s safari” (or “this is what Roosevelt says occurred…”)—but putting them into context as desirable economic commodities in a transatlantic publishing marketplace really changes how we see them. By publishing, these hunters also came to dominate the middle-class recreational press, and that really matters. Among other things, it let their version of conservation sweep aside many forms of local and market hunting across North America: they had an international pulpit from which to persuade middle-class readers, because other hunters weren’t writing about what they were doing.

2. Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the book?

13 years from beginning to end—but happily I wasn’t writing that whole time, a lot of it was spent teaching! It started as a dissertation, but I was lucky enough to get a postdoctoral fellowship to the Huntington Library, where I found a huge amount of great new material that had to be thought through and incorporated into the MS. I also had fantastic press readers who asked me some really challenging questions, so it got reworked once again because of that. It’s a much stronger book as a result, but I’m glad I didn’t know it was going to take this long when I started it!

As far as process, in grad school I wouldn’t allow myself to check email or go online until my day’s writing was finished, but once I started working full-time I didn’t have that luxury. My biggest fear in revision was coming up with a good conclusion, but when the time came I found I knew exactly what I wanted to say.

3. The Hunter Elite is the first book to explore both the international nature of American hunting at the end of the nineteenth century and the essential contributions of hunting narratives and the publishing industry to the North American conservation movement. Why do you think these topics have not been previously explored?

I might say it’s the first book to explore these topics in the way it does? I’ll tackle the second part first: ever since John Reiger’s foundational work back in 1975, we’ve known that the recreational press promoted conservation, but I investigate the why and how of that—the reasons this group of hunters chose to write and publish stories about their experiences, how they recruited editors and publishers as allies, and how readers were urged to participate. I also argue that the content of the narratives—the ways hunters consistently linked wilderness experience to manliness, self-discipline, the pioneer past, and Americanism—played a huge role when they began talking to readers about conservation, because they brought the same rhetoric to bear. And at that point they really did control the national recreational press, especially Outing Magazine, which was the fastest-growing periodical at the beginning of the twentieth century.

As for the international role, I find it odd that it’s been neglected (except for Roosevelt’s safari). Historians like Greg Gillespie have been doing great work on British hunting in North America, and there’s always been a lot of writing on the continental U.S. West, but by 1900 big game was becoming so scarce that Americans seeking trophies had to travel to Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, British East Africa, or India, so it made sense for me to follow them out there. I’ve always loved comparative history and I got so much out of analyzing the very different ways British and American hunters described their experiences, even when they were on the same hunting grounds or even the same expedition. I also got to go in-depth on the logistics of the safari and the unbelievable skills of African gunbearers, but with a different perspective, since I compare them to Alaskan guides and look at how, on both continents, they negotiated with, befriended, and battled the wealthy hunters who employed them. Canada and Newfoundland are in the mix as well: it’s fascinating to watch U.S. hunters describe Canada as an untouched wilderness while British hunters insist that it’s just another colony. The hunter elite also influenced or even wrote game laws in Canada and Newfoundland, as well as addressing hunting in Mexico, so it really is a North American story (with occasional forays through Africa and India).

4. When most people think of hunting in this period, they think of Theodore Roosevelt. How does he feature in the book?

The problem with Teddy Roosevelt isn’t just that he’s incredibly anomalous compared to all the other American elite hunters, it’s also that he wrote so much that he still dominates our impressions of elite hunting at the turn of the century. I hope that my book contributes to moving the history of elite hunting out from under Teddy’s shadow. The vast majority of American elite hunters in this era celebrated stalking game on foot as a display of manly self-control, and pointed to their refusal to kill even as many animals as allowed by their hunting licenses as proof of self-discipline; in their narratives they avoided discussing violence, war, and imperialism; and many of them liked and respected their guides. Some elite hunters were also women! You can’t see any of that without shifting out from under TR’s shadow, however, and I think sometimes historians working on the culture of the period have assumed that he was representative of elite hunting. Instead he was, as Christopher Lasch once said, compelling but rather bizarre. I certainly discuss him, especially when it comes to conservation, but I really hope this book helps to move the conversation on elite hunting away from this one man and over to the hundreds of other hunters, male and female, who were also publishing narratives of sport in this period. The story they were telling was equally influential and, I think, more interesting because it’s unexpected.

5. You mentioned conservation: what role did American hunters play in helping to establish national parks?

As we know them today? Everything.

If you like the national parks, thank a hunter—or rather go back in time and thank the Boone and Crockett Club. These guys understood very early on that parks would provide reservoirs for game that would assure good hunting beyond park boundaries, but, as time passed, they also came to see them as the last bastion for endangered animals. Remember, this was the generation that saw the bison driven almost to extinction: Owen Wister, urging Outing’s readers to support conservation, reminded them that “[You may] say that it is our grandchildren who will not find much trout fishing, but bear in mind that men not yet forty have seen the buffalo like armies along the banks.” The hunter elite were directly responsible for creating Glacier, Denali, Mesa Verde, Wind Crater, and what became Grand Canyon National Park, and barring hunting in Yellowstone. They also pushed through game-changing legislation, including the Antiquities Act, which gave presidents the ability to preserve these beautiful places without Congress’ consent (Obama was the most recent president to take advantage of that).

At the same time, conservation in this era had its darker side: saving wild places and animals often meant placing restrictions on local people as well as market hunters, and non-white and working-class hunters were the most likely to feel the impact. What interests me most is how the hunter elite used their power in the national media to disenfranchise local hunters by reaching out to middle-class readers, creating a constituency out of them, and then mobilizing them on behalf of conservation. It’s a different way of seeing the power they wielded than just examining political position and legislation, and it’s one of the parts of the story I’ve uncovered that’s most relevant to the current day: the role played by the media in deciding the outcome of conflicts over nature is really important to environmentalists and political scientists as well as historians.

6. What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

I’d probably have had a different answer at each stage of it, but one thing that strikes me is that I had the bad (or good) fortune to straddle the massive change in availability of these texts that we’re experiencing right now. When I wrote the first draft, everything I used was from libraries and archives, but by the time I was revising for the press almost all those texts—and some I hadn’t encountered before!– were available to me on my phone. There had to be a point where I took a deep breath, reminded myself that more is not always better, and stopped adding material. The availability is great for teaching (and for writers without travel funds), but I wonder sometimes how overwhelming it is for grad students just starting to explore a topic—archives are finite, so you can always reach the end of the file, pat yourself on the back, and go find a pub.

7. What was your favorite part of writing the book?

Engaging with the storytelling—although that also could fall under the “most challenging part,” since I wanted to make sure the anecdotes never overwhelmed the analysis. But these men and women were literate and engaging writers, and that was one of the reasons that their narratives resonated with readers. From sneering condemnations of “the great American trout-swine,” to “Songs of Pig-sticking” (complete with music and lyrics), to accounts of being attacked by grizzly bears (“I was greeted with a terrible growling and the crackling rush of a heavy body. I fired, and was embraced, it seems to me, almost simultaneously, calling to Clark as I went down…”), I never got tired of reading these sources. Their diaries are equally engaging: I love guide George Elson’s simple note on the day his expedition reached its goal, “Your joy no man taketh from you.”

I also kept an eye out for the aside that reveals more than the author intended. The safari, for instance, is often framed as being about subjugation, with white masters and black servants replicating the ugliest of race relations, but Winthrop Chanler (unintentionally) reveals that his workers had their own idea of that relationship when he insists on travelling across a lake on a creaky raft: his men lined the shores, he writes, and “shouted cheering words to us, such as, ‘Look out for the crocodiles!’ ‘If master dies, who’ll pay us.’ These cries, added to the dismal chill of the air, almost caused me to turn back…” Some elite whites might have liked to imagine they were acting out a story of mastery, but at least one worker on that safari knew it was all about his paycheck! I hope my analysis is always clear, but I love being able to share the words of these hunters and their guides with readers; they’re a large part of why this genre became so popular in its time.

8. What surprised you the most as you read these narratives?

I think the amount of evidence I’ve found about big-game hunting women. There’s been some great work written on women’s hunting, but it tends to focus on the handful of women who published narratives: there weren’t many, and they were mostly single, so that’s been our image of female hunters. Reading men’s stories, though, I discovered women hunting everywhere, most often with their husbands, but also with their fathers or brothers; these women didn’t usually publish, however, so they’ve been invisible so far. It upends a lot of what we thought. Charles Sheldon, for instance, took his society bride, Louisa Gulliver Sheldon, hunting, since he thought she would enjoy nothing as much as shooting a bear. It sounds like a hell of a honeymoon: at one point she was almost swept out to sea when they were crossing a river; she managed to keep her rifle above water, though, and displayed it proudly to Charles when he hauled her safely to shore. In addition, he notes, she turned out to be “perfectly cool, even more so than most men,” when dealing with bear. This is actually typical; most men hunting with their wives or daughters have nothing but praise for them.

Women’s published narratives are fascinating as well, because they conform to some elements of the men’s stories but openly challenge others—and even though far fewer women published than hunted, their books were hugely popular. They published in the recreational press as well (helpfully reminding other women, for instance, to discard their corsets before mountain-climbing).

9. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

Living or dead? Charles Sheldon, the most respected American big-game hunter and the force behind Denali National Park: I’d love to know if he thought I got it right! He could share it with Louisa and maybe I could ask her why she never published her own version of her bear-hunting adventures.

10. What are you reading now?

In fiction, I’m almost through Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon, which is fantastic, like The Name of the Rose if it were sci-fi. In history, I just finished Mark Bowden’s Hué 1968. I’ve taught the Tet Offensive and also worked in Vietnam so I was fascinated to read a book that draws on sources from both sides of the conflict.

Tara Kathleen Kelly is an independent scholar with a PhD in American history from Johns Hopkins University.

International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day, but at UPK it’s just another Thursday. A quick search for ‘women’ on our website turns up multiple pages of books about women. So, we picked a few of our favorites…

Wanted Women; An American Obsession in the Reign of J. Edgar Hoover

by Mary Elizabeth Strunk

The iconic photo of Bonnie Parker—cigar clenched in jaw, pistol in hand—says it all: America loves its bad girls. Now Mary Elizabeth Strunk tells us why.

Wanted Women is a startling look at the lives—and legends—of ten female outlaws who gained notoriety during the tumultuous decades that bracketed the tenure of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Strunk looks at real-life events and fictional portrayals to decipher what our obsession with these women says about shifting gender roles, evolving law-enforcement practices, and American cultural attitudes in general.

First Ladies and American Women In Politics and at Home

by Jill Abraham Hummer

Unelected, but expected to act as befits her “office,” the first lady has what Pat Nixon called “the hardest unpaid job in the world.” Michelle Obama championed military families with the program Joining Forces. Four decades earlier Pat Nixon traveled to Africa as the nation’s official representative. And nearly four decades before that, Lou Hoover took to the airwaves to solicit women’s help in unemployment relief. Each first lady has, in her way, been intimately linked with the roles, rights, and responsibilities of American women. Pursuing this connection, First Ladies and American Women reveals how each first lady from Lou Henry Hoover to Michelle Obama has reflected and responded to trends that marked and unified her time.

Beyond Rosie the Riveter; Women of World War II in American Popular Graphic Art

by Donna B. Knaff

The iconic bicep-flexing poster image of “Rosie the Riveter” has long conveyed the impression that women were welcomed into the World War II work force and admired for helping “free a man to fight.” Donna Knaff, however, shows that “Rosie” only revealed part of the reality and that women depicted in other World War II visual art—both in the private sector and the military—reflected decidedly mixed feelings about the status of women within American society.

The Woman Who Dared to Vote; The Trial of Susan B. Anthony

by N. E. H. Hull

Just as the polls opened on November 5, 1872, Susan B. Anthony arrived and filled out her “ticket” for the various candidates. But before it could be placed in the ballot box, a poll watcher objected, claiming her action violated the laws of New York and the state constitution. Anthony vehemently protested that as a citizen of the United States and the state of New York she was entitled to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment. The poll watchers gave in and allowed Anthony to deposit her ballots. Anthony was arrested, charged with a federal crime, and tried in court.

Those Girls; Single Women in Sixties and Seventies Popular Culture

by Katherine J. Lehman

Long before Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, there was Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Every week, as Mary flung her beret into the air while the theme song proclaimed, You’re gonna make it after all, it seemed that young, independent women like herself had finally arrived. But as Katherine Lehman reveals, the struggle to create accurate portrayals of successful single women for American TV and cinema during the 1960s and 1970s wasn’t as simple as the toss of a hat.

Daughters of Aquarius; Women of the Sixties Counterculture

by Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo

It was a sign of the sixties. Drawn by the promise of spiritual and creative freedom, thousands of women from white middle-class homes rejected the suburban domesticity of their mothers to adopt lifestyles more like those of their great-grandmothers. They eagerly learned “new” skills, from composting to quilting, as they took up the decade’s quest for self-realization.

 

A Historian Offers Reflections on the Florida School Shootings

By John W. Johnson, author of The Struggle for Student Rights

Valentine’s Day 2018: Parkland, Florida: A disturbed young man, armed with an assault weapon, roams the halls of a school building. He randomly shoots students and school staff as they huddle in classrooms or flee into the halls. Why do such things keep happening in American schools?  It is almost impossible to envision the horrific scene in Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, or to comprehend what the surviving students, their parents and friends are now living through.

In contrast to the most infamous American school shootings in the recent past—Columbine High in Colorado in 1999 and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012—the Parkland tragedy has generated a powerful movement of student survivors that is capturing the attention of the country. It is too soon to say whether the courage, the emotions, and the articulate thoughtfulness of this student movement will have an enduring impact on public policy. But in the few short weeks since the Parkland tragedy, the students challenging elected officials to do something meaningful about gun safety appears to have set a decidedly different national tone than was the case after the Columbine and Sandy Hook massacres. Day after day, the response of the students in Parkland leads the national news.

Over 50 years ago, I attended a public high school in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. The worst violence I witnessed in my Minnesota high school, however, was an occasional scuffle between students in the halls or cafeteria; I never observed a weapon brandished in anger. But my high school experience is not the perspective I wish to suggest here. At about the time I was drifting through my secondary school classes, worried more about acne or the next debate tournament, a small group of students 200 miles to the south was initiating a protest that would ultimately alter American history. This story–of a handful of students in Des Moines, Iowa in the late 1960s who sported black armbands in silent testimony of their convictions–is the one I offer here.

The genesis of the Des Moines student protests was the rapidly-building national ferment over the Vietnam War. In the fall of 1965, a couple of dozen central Iowa parents and their secondary school children took busses to Washington, DC to participate in the first mass demonstration against the Vietnam War. On the return trip, these families discussed how to keep alive in Iowa concerns about American foreign policy in Southeast Asia. One proposal—for students to wear black armbands to class on two days in late December—met with general agreement. So, on December 16 and 17, 1965 a couple of dozen students in the 18,000-student Des Moines school system wore crudely-made black armbands to class.

The students participating in the “black armband protest,” as it was called, had two purposes in mind.  First of all, they donned the armbands to mourn the casualties in the Vietnam War—Americans as well as Southeast Asians. Secondly, they wore the armbands in sympathy with the call by New York Senator Robert Kennedy for a “Christmas truce” in order to encourage peace talks. Although a number of students at several Des Moines schools displayed the armbands, three became most prominent in the public eye: Mary Beth Tinker (age 13), her brother John Tinker (age 15), and a friend, Christopher Eckhardt (also age 15). John and Chris were suspended for violating a hastily prepared school board “policy” forbidding the wearing of armbands to protest the Vietnam War, and Mary Beth, although not suspended, was sent home for the same infraction.

The two Tinkers and Chris Eckhardt would see their punishments upheld by the Des Moines School Board in early 1966. Rather than accepting the sanctions, the three Iowa teenagers and their parents allowed the Iowa Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) to represent their interests in federal court. A young ICLU volunteer attorney, Dan Johnston, argued that the school board sanctions violated the three students’ rights of symbolic expression protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Over the next two and a half years the armband case was heard by the federal district court in Des Moines and two circuit court of appeals panels in St. Louis. Eventually, in late 1968, the armband case was argued in front of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, in February 1969, the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 ruling upholding the students’ First Amendment rights and striking down the Des Moines school board sanctions. In the majority opinion, Justice Abe Fortas declared that it “can hardly be argued that . . . students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” In retrospect, Justice Fortas’s opinion established the high-water mark for student rights in America.

Throughout the armband dispute, the three Des Moines students were frequently interviewed and photographed by the Iowa press. Much like the students at Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, the Tinkers and Chris Eckhardt were good copy. They were articulate, photogenic, and knowledgeable about issues beyond their years.

In the early 1990s I had the privilege of interviewing the three former Des Moines students—then in their 40s—who were sanctioned for wearing black armbands in the mid-1960s. I also interviewed lawyers, activists and others familiar with the Iowa protest scene during the Vietnam War years. And I examined the legal materials on the case that became known as Tinker v. Des Moines. Finally, I perused the extensive press coverage of the armband dispute.

In 1997, the University Press of Kansas published my book, The Struggle for Student Rights: Tinker v. Des Moines and the 1960s. In it, I tell the story of the Iowa armband dispute, focusing on the actions and the thoughts of Mary Beth, John and Chris. Two decades after its publication, I believe that The Struggle for Student Rights offers instructive perspectives on the public stance of the students who survived the Parkland shootings.

First of all, the Parkland students in 2018, as was the case with the three Iowa students in the late 1960s, have captured public attention because of their sincerity and incredibly eloquent testimonials.  Smart, passionate, camera-friendly young people speaking truth to power has struck a chord with the news media and most Americans following the Parkland shootings. The students at Stoneman Douglas have not only demonstrated high quality critical thinking in their community, but they have also served as an example to young people pushing for gun safety reform in other parts of the country. The Iowa armband protest is still talked about a half century later; perhaps the Parkland-inspired protests will have that degree of staying power.

The very intelligence and impressive presence of the Parkland students, however, is proving difficult for some conservative spokespersons and media pundits to find credible. We are hearing accusations that the testifying Parkland students are accomplished actors who are being fed lines from anti-gun interest groups. Similarly, the Tinkers and Chris Eckhardt were denigrated by some Iowans for allegedly parroting their parents’ anti-war views. This opinion was voiced even though the parents of the Tinkers and Chris Eckhardt often disagreed with the statements and activities of their children. Such criticism will persist as long as young people raise their voices in the public arena.  Justice Hugo Black, dissenting in Tinker v. Des Moines, maintained “It may be that the Nation has outworn the old-fashioned slogan that ‘children are to be seen not heard,’ but one may . . . be permitted to harbor the thought that taxpayers send children to school on the premise that at their age they need to learn, not teach.” Perhaps the best that the Parkland students can hope for is that their strident but peaceful advocacy will persist long enough to persuade some in the middle of the political spectrum of the wisdom of their views on gun safety.

A related lesson for modern gun safety advocates to glean from the Iowa armband protests is that such advocacy takes a great deal of time to change the minds of a diverse and contentious population. The Iowa students in the 1960 fought their cause in the courts for over three years and were part of a many-sided anti-war movement that did not bring the Vietnam War to a halt until a decade later. I am one of those who believes the anti-war movement was, ultimately, instrumental in actually ending the Vietnam War. But there are many historians and politicians who differ, believing that the anti-war partisans of the sixties and seventies had nothing to do with the final American withdrawal from Southeast Asia. Given the intransigence of the NRA and other pro-gun advocates, the goal of sensible gun regulation will not be achieved easily or quickly in America today. But the example of the peaceful but persistent Iowa armband protest shows that a just cause may eventually prevail.

One significant difference between the Sixties protest climate and that of the country in recent years is that digital technology, ubiquitous today, was just a dream in the armband era. The Tinkers and Chris Eckhardt staked out their territory prior the birth of the internet and cable news.  This meant that the protesting students of the 1960s functioned in the context of a much slower and more episodic news coverage than is now the case.  By comparison, the Parkland students cannot easily secure any breathing space from reporters, videographers, smart phones and blogs.

Mary Beth Tinker recently retired after a long career as a pediatric trauma nurse, having treated gunshot wounds in scores of children. Now in her mid-60s, Mary Beth spends many of her waking hours reminding audiences of her past activism and promoting diverse student voices for free expression in the current environment.  Both from her perspective as a plaintiff in the Iowa armband case and as a trauma nurse, she has weighed in on the Florida school shootings.  In addition to communicating with her audiences in public appearances, she maintains a professional website promoting the “Tinker Tour”–https://tinkertourusa.org/.

 

Johnson is an emeritus professor of History at the University of Northern Iowa. In his 43-year academic career, he taught courses on Recent U.S. History, American Civil Liberties, and Critical Thinking.  He is also the author of a number of books and articles, including The Struggle for Student Rights: Tinker v. Des Moines and the 1960s

University Press Joins Forces with Osher Institute

The University Press of Kansas and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute would like to announce a partnership. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is a part of KU Professional & Continuing Education and are committed to creating accessible and innovative learning environments throughout Kansas and the Greater Kansas City area, with special focus on participants age 50 and over although anyone can participate.

Choosing from a diverse collection of courses, participants create their own program of personal development, expanding their views of the world and enriching their lives and their communities. Faculty and facilitators are carefully selected to assure they have the academic qualifications, a passion for the topic, and a love of teaching to create a meaningful and fun learning environment. The partnership will involve the Press facilitating an introduction between our authors and Osher where they can become special presenters or long term teachers for their programs. Osher’s mission is very similar to ours and we found we had a lot of common goals between us, so a partnership will become mutually beneficial to Osher, the Press, our authors, and the participants in these programs. This relationship will help our outreach to the local and regional community and our authors will enjoy the experience as well as gain exposure for themselves. We have already introduced two of our authors to the Osher Institute who were thrilled at the opportunity to work with programs that will benefit our local communities. Our expectation once our partnership is established here in Kansas is to provide this opportunity for all our authors across the country as there are 120 Osher sites spread throughout all 50 states.

If you have any questions about the Press, or the services we can provide to you, please contact Interim Director Conrad Roberts at ceroberts@ku.edu. If you have any questions about the Osher Institute, please contact Director Jim Peters at jpeters1@ku.edu .

Following the 2018 Election, pt. 2 – Why Elections Matter

by Betty O’Shaughnessy and Dick Simpson, authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century

Let’s begin with a review of the results of the 2016 general election. About 139 million Americans, or 60.2 percent of the voting-eligible population voted, according to the U.S. Elections Project. That compares with 58.6 percent of eligible voters who turned out in 2012, but it’s below the 62.2 percent who turned out to help elect Obama for the first time in 2008.  Approximately 63 million voted for Donald Trump; 66 million voted for Hillary Clinton, winning her the popular vote, although she lost in the Electoral College and Trump became President.  She lost several key rust-belt, battle-ground states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

In Winning Elections in the 21st Century, we wrote that to have a chance at winning, campaigns needed to develop a strong campaign theme and message; raise sufficient funds; identify their voters, and get them to the polls.  How successful were the major candidates in carrying out these activities in the November 2016 election?

Results were mixed. As for messaging, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Bernie Sanders’ “Political Revolution is Coming” slogans were more appealing to certain voters than Clinton’s vaguer “Hillary for America.” When it came to funding, Hillary outspent Trump by almost twice as much, $1,191M to $646.8M; but like Obama, Trump collected more money from small donations (less than $200) than did his opponent. As to finding supporters, Trump managed to reach his voters better than Clinton reached hers (as did Bernie Sanders). The most important aspect of the election was turnout. As described below, turnout from expected Clinton support groups were lower than Trump’s.

Breaking it down by voting groups, Trump won the white vote (57% t0 37% for Clinton), but won college-educated whites voters only by 48% to 45%. Many people felt disenfranchised by the Clinton campaign; and the anger of white Bernie Sanders voters showed up in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, states whose Democrats had supported Sanders in the primaries but voted for Trump in the general elections. The majority of all minority groups voted for Clinton. While African-American turnout was lower than 2012, still 88% voted for Clinton.  Hispanic voting was up, but lower than other groups. It was not as heavily pro-Hillary as expected; while 65% voted for Clinton, while 71% had voted for Obama in 2012. More Hispanics voted for Trump than had for Mitt Romney four years earlier.

While 54% of all women voters chose Clinton, and women in all minority categories voted for Clinton, this did not hold true for white women, 54% of whom voted for Trump. The large turnout of women voters for Clinton upon which her campaign was counting did not happen. Clinton’s 12-point margin over Trump among women was only one percentage point higher than Obama claimed  in 2012.

Getting People Involved

Lately activists are emerging particularly from two groups: women and millennials. Beginning with women: while men vote for women candidates as often as they vote for men, and while women have long been activists, as a group they have been reluctant to run for office — currently making up only 20 percent of elected officials in the U.S.  Women tend to enter electoral politics at lower levels such as school boards, and once in office, are less likely to climb the political ladder for higher office. The gender gap increases with the level of elected office.  Men are 16% more likely to be recruited by political actors, or even encouraged to run by family and friends. Finally, women often see the qualities desired for candidates, such as ambitious or risk-taking, as not very feminine, and few see their spouses taking over household responsibilities if they were to run. Happily, as of the middle of February, 390 women are planning to run for the House of Representatives, as compared to 272 women who filed to run before state deadlines in 2016.

Getting more women to run is important on several levels. Men and women have different backgrounds and outlooks, meaning that equal representation will expand the character and content of legislative debate. Moreover, women’s presence in legislatures changes what issues get on the political agenda. Since studies have shown that most Republican women will vote with Democratic women on issues such as health care and education, having a critical mass of women in legislatures could change the legislative agenda to one that is more family-oriented and nurturing. Finally, with women voting together across the aisles, more women in office could encourage a thaw in the current political impasse between parties.

Millennial voters reflected the demographics of the general youth population.  According to Tuft University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Education and Learning (CIRCLE), millennials had a voter turnout of almost 50% in November 2016, although in eleven battleground states their turnout was closer to 55%.  As a group, more millennials consider themselves independents than the rest of the voting population, although they tend to vote more as progressives than as conservatives, with the exception of non-college educated white males: Clinton carried all millennials 55% to 37% percent,  but 52% of white millennial males voted for Trump.

It is important to make sure that this generation is included in the political process, but that does not always happen with the major party organizations. Many millennials felt ignored or bypassed by regular party activists during the November 2016 campaign.

Today we have a polarized country and voters are more reluctant to become involved in what they think is the dirty business of politics.

To change the direction of the country, the 2018 elections will have to get more people to participate than they did in the 2014 nonpresidential election when the vast majority of us stayed home.

Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.

Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.

 

Max McCoy (Elevations; A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River) Q & A

The upper Arkansas River courses through the heart of America from its headwaters near the Continental Divide above Leadville, Colorado, to Arkansas City, just above the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Max McCoy embarked on a trip of 742 miles in search of the rivers unique story. Part adventure and part reflection, steeped in the natural and cultural history of the Arkansas Valley, Elevations is McCoy’s account of that journey. The book will be released later this month.

When did you first have the idea to write Elevations?

Some years ago, my friend W.C. Jameson and I floated the Mulberry River in Arkansas. He suggested that someday we should undertake an adventure: kayaking the length of the Arkansas River—or at least the two-thirds that has water. Although we never got a chance, the idea stuck with me, and evolved. For a time, I was on the faculty of a writing workshop at Gunnison, Colorado, and the drive there from my home in eastern Kansas follows the river for several hundred miles—along Highway 50—from about Hutchinson to Salida. I would often stop at points along the river and think about all of the history at the water’s edge and ponder how the river had changed, and whenever I saw anybody in the river—a kayak, a canoe, a raft, just dipping their feet—that’s where I wanted to be, too.

Later, I took a job at Emporia State, where I’m a professor now, and when the time came that I could submit an application for a sabbatical, I proposed the river project. I was granted a one- semester sabbatical in Fall 2013 to start the project, and it took another three years of episodic trips to complete the research. There was too much material to put the entire length of the river in one book, so I stopped at the Oklahoma Line—742 miles from the headwaters along the Continental Divide above Leadville, Colorado. The project had also evolved into more of a personal narrative, rather than just history and nature and culture, and that’s why it’s called a “personal exploration” in the subtitle. It sounds glib, but I set out to find a river and ended up finding myself.

Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the publication? How much time did you spend on the river.

I followed the Hemingway method, I wrote until I bled. Anybody who says that writing is easy must be lying, because I’ve found that any writing worth putting your name to is just the opposite. And, there’s no guarantee that you’ll produce anything to equal Hemingway—or, in this case, Strayed or Krakauer or McPhee. You just bleed and stick to your research and do your damned best to be honest with yourself and the reader. And then, just sometimes, certainly not often enough, you come up with something you’re okay with putting your name to. I’m still too close to the writing of Elevations to know whether it’s any good. That’s for others to decide now.

I came off the river the weekend before the General Election in November 2016, and then wrote steadily for the next few months. This was difficult because I was also working full time, so my days would be spent teaching journalism, and my nights spent writing. I got in the habit of writing late into the night during my days on daily newspapers, and not being a morning person, I’ve never been able to shake it. I already had perhaps 40,000 words written, but I ended up dropping some of that because of the structure that evolved for the book in the last six months or so of research. I finished the first draft at 3:12 p.m. Sunday, February 18, 2017 (I have a habit of recording these things). The draft was 120,000 words, which was somewhat longer than expected. Revisions, following peer review, also added another few thousand words.

Just thinking about the amount of time I spent on the river, or near it, is a bit surprising to me now. It was dozens of trips, each of which ranged in length from a few days to a couple of weeks. As I’ve said, it was episodic in nature, but I was on the water or near it in every season. The hardest for me was winter, and I spent Christmas Day in 2015 along the river, in the mountains, and just a few miles from the spot where the explorer Zebulon Pike had spent a near-disastrous holiday a couple of hundred years before. I had good equipment, and expert advice, but spending a cold 14-hour night in a tent, alone with my thoughts, is not something I’d like to repeat.

What is one thing you were most surprised to learn while working on the book?

That the story was just as much about emotional distance as actual distance. I had this uncomfortable epiphany while spending Christmas Eve in the snow along the river in the mountains that I use work—researching and writing, lecturing and traveling—to create spaces between myself and those I love. Why? Because it’s easier to deal with emotions in the abstract than engage in the messy business of figuring out how you really feel about people and telling them.

The unsurprising and dismaying thing I learned though writing the book is that, as human beings, we tend to repeat the mistakes of the past: Racism, genocide, demonization of immigrants, public policy that grants access to natural resources to only the wealthiest among us, trashing the environment in favor of short-term profits, the ease at which our authority figures lie and violate the public trust—and the capacity of the American public to be deeply in denial about the way things really are.

Did your perspective of the relationship between the river and communities change at all?

Yes. There are so many places where human beings have wrecked the river, from the federal Superfund site at Leadville down to where the river vanishes in western Kansas, that I became pessimistic early on. Much of the worst of this is hidden from view – you have to get out of your car and actually walk the dry bed at Cimarron Crossing or elsewhere to know just how much we’ve lost. Many communities seem ashamed, and perhaps rightly so, of how they’ve treated the river; fences block the view and barricades prevent access, and just walking down to the river requires something that feels like trespassing. Other cities, however, make the river an integral part of the landscape. I’m thinking here of the whitewater park at Salida, or the Riverwalk at Pueblo.

The one place where we humans actually left things better than we found them was at Camp Amache near Granada, Colorado. Amache was a concentration camp for Japanese Americans during World War II, and the internees cared for the land without exploiting it. Imagine being illegally detained for the duration of the war, having your homes and businesses taken from you, and yet still feeling responsible for the land on which you’ve been imprisoned.

What surprised you the most along your journey?

How generous people were with their time and their expertise. Many people just immediately got what I was trying to do, but even those that didn’t were helpful and often kind. Sometimes I’d just approach a stranger and start asking questions, and they would open up. This happened, for example, at Pueblo, where a maintenance worker named Raymond who was watering the lawn dropped everything to give me a tour of Union Depot, including a glimpse inside the clock tower, with the city and the river stretching out below. Another example is Vince Marshall, a member of the Arkansas River Coalition at Wichita, who paddled many sections of the river with me, including my favorite part of the river in Kansas, below Great Bend. And, the whitewater guides I had in Colorado worked hard to keep me out of trouble. Both Brandon Slate and Reid Jackson saved my bacon more than a few times. And, they did it with grace and good humor.

Water levels in the west are at a critical low point. What do you see as the biggest challenge to the people living along the Arkansas River?

You’ve said it – water. Irrigation, compounded by public policy, threatens to make much of what was river in western Kansas into a desert. You would think we’d have learned the lesson about the importance of sustainable agriculture during the Dust Bowl, but apparently we did not. After World War II, advances in technology made it possible for us to pump water that had previously been too deep to reach. Agriculture boomed, and even better irrigation technology followed. For the middle decades of the Twentieth Century, it was thought this new source of water was inexhaustible. But, as we know now, that’s just not true – some areas of the High Plains aquifer, particularly in western Kansas, are dangerously low. The Kansas Geological Survey has excellent data on this, going back to the 1960s. We’re pumping the aquifer dry. There have been some coordinated attempts to reduce irrigation, with some success, but this is a case of delaying the inevitable. At the present rate of irrigation, agriculture in western Kansas is unsustainable. And the end game here is not far in the future… we’re talking decades.

A related topic is the fate of the Arkansas River in western Kansas. Most communities between Great Bend and Garden City haven’t seen regular water in the river bed since the late 1970s. This is the result of a series of issues, including irrigation, changing topography, the long-litigated water compact between Kansas and Colorado, the right of “first use,” and snowmelt patterns in the Rockies that have been disrupted by climate change. Even if we stopped all irrigation now, it would take a long time for the river to come back. So long, in fact, that most studies say none of us alive now would be around to see it – and perhaps not even our children, or their children.

From the very beginning, the river has been divvied up for profit. The gold miners blasted it apart at Leadville, it was diverted to make steel at Pueblo, it was pumped to grow crops in western Kansas, and for decades it was used as a dump for toxic chemicals in Wichita. We must instead recognize that the river belongs to all Kansans and Coloradans, that access to it is our birthright, and that we must treat it as the unique and irreplaceable resource that it is. If we don’t, we’re sure to lose it.

What was the most exciting portion of traveling the Arkansas River?

Browns Canyon. I flipped my kayak at a rapid called Zoom Flume and paid the price. It was the only time on the river that I was truly shaken. I’m not a great paddler, but I’m usually comfortable in the water, but that was one place where I thought there was a good chance I’d actually be hurt, or worse. The river swept me into a rather large rock, and I had bruises for weeks. It was my fault, of course, because after all, I was paddling my own boat—and my guide, Reid, had shown me how to run the rapid. I just screwed up and it’s a good thing he was there to help after. You could say I got the hubris beaten out of me.

If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

The next governor of Kansas. The river and the communities along it are snapshots of the problems the state faces today. To name a few examples: the Somali population at Garden City, the target of a bomb plot in November 2016 , should make us think about how we deal with immigration, refugees, and racism; the dry bed at Cimarron, representing the long stretch of the river in western Kansas where irrigation and public policy have pumped things dry and left the river dying, if not already dead; and the fact that the Arkansas is only one of three rivers in Kansas it is legal to paddle unless you get permission from all the landowners along the banks. Kansas has less public land, in terms of percentages, than any other state. Yet, we have this fantastic corridor that is designated as public, but in many areas is treated as a trash dump or a place to race your ATVs. For the areas that have water, access is a problem. More often than not, I found myself accessing the river in Kansas by dragging my kayak up or down many a filthy embankment beneath highway bridges. The best places to launch in Kansas, in my opinion, are in south Wichita and from the city park at Oxford.

What are you reading now?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I’ve read this several times before, but I return to it when I need encouragement. Frankl was a psychiatrist who was sent to Auschwitz and lost his parents, brother, and pregnant wife to the death camps. Yet, he managed to survive. His book is a memoir of his time in the camps, and explains his philosophy –that while we cannot escape suffering, we can choose our response to it, and that the key to life is not pleasure, but purpose.


Max McCoy is professor of journalism and director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University. He has written a mystery series and works of historical fiction, three of which have won Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America.