*Starred Review* For 60 years the Dictionary of American History
(DAH) has been the unrivaled source of choice for information about the history of the U.S. from its precolonial days on. In its new edition it reflects recent trends in the ways in which American history is studied, taught, and interpreted.This means shedding the vestiges of the political and military emphases of its 1940 first edition and thoroughly incorporating analytical filters such as race, gender, ethnicity, and class in making sense of the American story. It also means a more synthetic approach. While retaining its alphabetical organization running from the first volume through the eighth, this edition has reduced the number of entries from more than 7,100 to 4,434. DAH continues to eschew biographical entries in deference to other plentiful sources of biographies of contributors to American history (in fact, DAH was originally intended to be used in conjunction with the publisher's Dictionary of American Biography,
which has been continued as The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives
). However, it has helpfully introduced maps and illustrations as well as an "archival" volume. This supplement consists of maps accompanied by commentary depicting American territory from around 1550 to 1855, the Civil War era, and lower Manhattan from 1675 to September 12, 2001. The bulk of the supplementary volume presents transcriptions of primary documents. These range in topic and time from Powhatan's 1607 plea for peace to John Smith to the nativist American Party platform of 1856 to an excerpt from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
to Stokely Carmichael's Black Power speech of 1966 to Al Gore's December 2000 concession speech. See
references link the primary documents to entries in the dictionary proper and vice versa.
In the dictionary itself readers will find the same sort of informative articles they have come to expect, including articles on topics they now assume will be covered. These include an eyes-wide-open treatment of college athletics, the lobbying power of the AARP, the Clinton impeachment, sexually transmitted diseases, and the 9/11 attack and its aftermath. Even brief entries, such as the one on home-shopping networks, conclude with an up-to-date bibliography and see also references to related articles. An extensive alphabetical index offers access to these riches. A complementary access tool, a guide to eras of American history, correlates relevant chapters in several very recent textbooks with lists of articles in the dictionary.
There are now other encyclopedias of American history available. Academic libraries confined to one option should go with the DAH. Public libraries need to consider whether users are most likely to be high school students or college students and college-educated adults (in which case DAH). RBB
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved