Neil Campbell’s Post-Westerns: Cinema, Region, West is now available from University of Nebraska Press, 2013.  It develops many of the ideas contained and discussed on this website.  There is a 25% discount for a limited period!


Review of ‘Regionalism and the Humanities’

Regionalism and the Humanities, Edited and Introduced by Timothy R. Mahoney and Wendy J. Katz (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 343 pp., $30.00, pb.

Neil Campbell

American Studies, University of Derby, U.K.

These seventeen interdisciplinary essays are the product of a conference of Regional Humanities Centers from November 2003 and this accounts both for its strengths and weaknesses. Its strengths derive from the expertise of its authors writing with authority about the role of region in the Humanities. At its heart is a desire to reclaim regionalism as a usable concept in an age of globalisation where the tendency has been to diminish the local and the ‘placed’ in favour of mobility and displacement.  Against perceived global sameness, a form of McDonaldization of culture, the authors claim that the regional offers difference and ‘particularity’ of ‘interest and identity’ (xi) which aims not necessarily ‘to produce a consensual history of a place, a period, or a people’, but is just as likely to emphasize pluralism and conflict among and between competing identities’ (xii). 

Annie Proulx’s opening essay looks at landscape in fiction as ‘the sum of accumulated changes wrought by the inhabitants and their marks on the land’ (14) and argues for regions as ‘neither pure nor static’. Other essays in the collection range from examine Great Plains environmental writing, the Southwest (through literature and architecture), to Willa Cather, and the South Atlantic through music.  This suggests the scope of the collection and its conference roots whilst highlighting its weaknesses in being too inclusive at the expense of a more rigorous theoretical examination of the topic, and in coming from 2003, already seeming dated.  It makes only one reference to ‘critical regionalism’, for example, a concept increasingly employed as a decisive tool to interrogate national and global imperatives and contest fashionable definitions of identity and place.

However, in its attention to regionalism as ‘focusing on pluralities instead of the mass’ (73) as one writer puts it, this collection constantly reminds us of the energy and diversity of such an approach, one ‘underrepresented in the ongoing reformulation of American studies’ (178).  Despite its flaws this collection contributes usefully to this particular struggle.