Celebrating the American West

Just finished reading The American West by Dee Brown, who is probably best known for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, the classic history of Native Americans. The American West is a collection of short historical pieces roughly organized in chronological order. It reviews much of the Native American history but also covers railroads, cowboys, and the rise and fall of Western towns. I really enjoyed it, despite having a pretty solid knowledge of much that it covers. My husband and I have explored a good bit of the territory that Brown describes, mostly during our Lewis and Clark trip in 1998.

Part of what made The American West so good was the extensive use of photographs and maps. I think history is often a dull subject to students because it the materials tend to text-based, and unless you’ve got an engaging writer like Brown, the endless dates, names and locations can be overwhelming.  For me,  history lives in the stories that Brown tells and those photographs and maps helped flesh out the story for me.

This morning, I sat down to add the book the my LibraryThing catalog and then started poking around the Library of Congress website. What a treasure trove of visual representations! The site covers not just items in the LOC collection but also links to other sites, such as the University of Washington’s online exhibit about the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest. These repositories offer a wealth of materials for the teacher to use but also for digital storytelling projects as well.

I searched the Google maps directory and was surprised that I couldn’t find an overlay about Native Americans or even western history.  What a great project that would be for students who are studying history.  It helps make the link between geography and history.  For instance, the National Park Service has an interactive map for the Battle of Little Bighorn that can be used with Google maps satellite view to better understand the terrain and the battle itself.   I was never very good at deciphering battles from text descriptions so this offers some new understanding.


  1. I have the same limitations, so will use your link to see if I can make some more sense of the battle. need to go back and find my books, now.
    I really enjoy historic books. 🙂 Enjoyed reading your post.

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