Cover image for Print the legend : photography and the American West
Print the legend : photography and the American West
Sandweiss, Martha A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiii, 402 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Format :


Call Number
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TR23.6 .S25 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This volume tells the intertwined stories of photography and the American West - a new medium and a new place that came of age together in the 19th century. The story begins just a few years after the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, as pioneering photographers followed American troops into the Mexican-American War. Taking advantage of rapidly developing technology, photographers soon set out across the overland trails, recorded the shifting fortunes of California's goldseekers, pictured native peoples, and documented the spectacular topography of the American West. The new medium of photography made vivid a landscape few Americans had seen for themselves.

Author Notes

Martha A. Sandweiss is professor of history and American studies at Amherst College.

Martha A. Sandweiss received a Ph.D. in history from Yale University. She began her career as a photography curator at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. She then taught American studies and history at Amherst College for twenty years. She is currently a professor of history at Princeton University. She has written numerous books on American history and photography including Print the Legend: Photography and the American West, which won the Organization of American Historians' Ray Allen Billington Award for the best book in American frontier history and the William P. Clements Award; Laura Gilpin: An Enduring Grace, which won the George Wittenborn Award for outstanding art book of 1987; and Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

More a scholarly tome than the usual Ansel Adams$like coffee-table fixture, this study sets its dual focus on a new pictorial medium and the new distinctively American region of the 19th century. As the title suggests, it is no more about how the West really was than it is a simple compendium of lovely images. Sandweiss, a professor of history and American Studies at Amherst College, attempts a difficult balance of art and history, where photographs and social studies complement each other rather than compete for intellectual space. Time is on Sandweiss' s side: as she shows, America' s frontier narrative and the new art form did more or less rise up together. The book stakes its labors on the assumption that, even if the confluence is sheer chance, the influence can' t help running both ways: photos helped make the West, and the art form was in turn shaped by the new needs of a newly shaped nation. Sandweiss is richly informative and thoughtful in recounting and reconsidering the times, no surprise for an editor of the excellent Oxford History of the American West. Her account of the cultural impact of the Spanish-American War is probing; the Native American history here is inclusive, surprising and subtle. It would be quite difficult to handle the photography with equal Elan, especially given the author' s commitment to the significance of public photographs in large part, fairly repetitive portraiture and Sandweiss' s readings of pictures are rarely insightful, if sometimes usefully direct. As a result, the careful and thoughtful book will appeal less to students of photography than to those interested in the place and time, and how our image of it came together. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This passionate and compassionate book is closer to historiography (how historians do their work) than to history. Sandweiss (American studies & history, Amherst Coll.; coeditor, The Oxford History of the American West) describes how photography and the American West grew up simultaneously, beginning in the early 1800s. She explores imagery of the Mexican-American War, western expansion, photographic surveys, images of the American Indian, and the role photography played in promoting an idealized, mythic West. The work's strength lies in the author's sensitive discussions about photography's powerful ability to describe but limited ability to explain. In the end, Sandweiss makes a valuable contribution toward better understanding the uses of photography by historians (who often limit its role to illustration) and members of the general public (who are often unaware of preconceptions that influence how they view an image). She shows photographs to be problematic evidence but skillfully argues on behalf of their playing a more central role in historical research. This is one historian's argument for a more nuanced understanding of these fascinating, complicated documents.-Michael Dashkin, PricewaterhouseCoopers, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Although there have been many examinations of the development of photography in the American West and the careers of photographers who sought to capture images of this region with primitive cameras, this meticulous and analytical study provides the most thoughtful analysis of the role of photography in shaping images of the American West. Focusing on the period from the 1840s to the 1890s, Sandweiss (history and American studies, Amherst College) seeks to examine public photographs as opposed to private photographs (portraits made for private individuals and to be used as mementoes for families). These public photographs were produced for sale and wide distribution, and their distribution in the East played a significant role in shaping images of the West. Sensitive to the changing technologies that produced lasting images of the West, the author is most helpful in indicating how such photographs can be interpreted as primary source documents. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels. P. D. Thomas Wichita State University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: Picture Stories: Photography and the Nineteenth-Century Westp. 1
1 "The Spirit Is Wanting" Photography and the Mexican-American Warp. 15
2 "Of Instruction for Their Faithfulness" Panoramas, Indian Galleries, and Western Daguerreotypesp. 47
3 "A Panorama of the Country" Government Enterprise, Daguerreotypes, and the Exploration of the Far Westp. 87
4 "The Attempt Has Not Met with Distinguished Success" Early Wet-Plate Photography and Western Explorationp. 121
5 "Westward the Course of Empire" Photography and the Invention of an American Futurep. 155
6 "Momentoes of the Race" Photography and the American Indianp. 207
7 "Print the Legend" Western Photography and the Illustrated Bookp. 275
Epilogue: Pictures as History and Memory: Photography and the Story of the Western Pastp. 325
Notesp. 345
Indexp. 391