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Captures the multiethnic, multicultural world of the California Gold Rush, in a richly textured social history that profiles the era's diverse and colorful characters, the evolution of a unique society, the sources of our legends and myths about the Gold Rush.
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Susan Lee Johnson is professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder.From Kirkus Reviews:
A dutiful, ponderous reconstruction of daily life in the California gold fields. Johnson (History/Univ. of Colorado) argues that the commonly held view of the gold rush leaves out many of its principal actors; derived in large part from the chummy, mud-spattered writings of Bret Harte, that view centers on Anglo-American miners while elbowing thousands of Eastern-European, South-American, African-American, Mexican, and Chinese workers into the backgroundto say nothing of the Native Americans on whose territory the gold rush took place. Johnson looks beyond Hartes tales of camaraderie to depict the California gold camps as hotbeds of ethnic and cultural strife, battlegrounds on which Anglo- Americans not only sought their personal fortunes but asserted political dominion over the region, newly conquered from Mexico, a task that made them anxious about issues of gender, of race and culture, and of class. Their attempts to impose this control, Johnson suggests, were often misguided. A monthly $20 tax on foreign (that is, non-Anglo) miners, for instance, drove away much-needed cooks, haulers, and common laborers, and it was soon done away with. Johnson turns up useful correctivesfor one, that most Chinese workers came to California freely, rather than as indentured laborersand gives needed attention to the Miwok and other Indian peoples who often fell afoul of the gold seekers, sometimes because of simple cultural misunderstandings. The more interesting threads of her argument, however, are buried in a surfeit of incidental detail, and her narrative too often becomes a mere recitation of undigested facts, betraying its origins as a doctoral dissertation. Published a shade too late to join the flood of books commemorating the 150th anniversary of the gold rush, Johnsons study makes a useful yet decidedly secondary reference for scholars and students of the period. -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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