|Vol. VIII, No. 3, 1995|
by Robert Flanders
Arkansas Odyssey: The Saga of Arkansas from Prehistoric Times To the Present. A History by
Michael B. Dougan (Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company, Inc., 1993. Pp. xxxvi, 684. Maps,
illustrations, chronology, appendices, index. $75.00)
At last, a history of Arkansas! Some twenty years in research and writing, Arkansas Odyssey provides an authoritative treatment of the state in a single (large) volume. It is encyclopedic in scope, as also in helft, format, and appearance. Yet the writing remains readable and engaging.
Arkansas Odyssey is intended for reference, as well as for narrative history. It will serve both functions well. Each of its nineteen chapters begins with a table of chapter contents. For example, Chapter VI, "Religion, Education, and Reform" contains a table listing the major sections enumerated in the chapter title, plus additional elements characteristic of all chapters-"Introduction," "Conclusion," and "Bibliographic Essay." The section of Chapter VI titled "Religion" includes eleven subsections, from "Roman Catholics" to "Jews," and includes "The Irreligious on the Frontier, .... Religion in Private Life," and "Religion in Arkansas Life." The chapter's total twenty-one separate elements of text are clearly set out with appropriate subtitles, making them easy to find by a reader looking for, say, Methodists, or Communes, or Home Instruction. The average number of subsections per chapter is close to thirty, with a grand total approaching six hundred.
The range of subjects is prodigious. They begin with geography, modernization theory, and prehistoric and historic Native Americans; they conclude with three chapters on Arkansas since World War II. In addition to the standard topics of settlement, politics, government, and war, Arkansas Odyssey gives extended treatment to social and cultural history. For example, in chapter XVIII, "Developing an Arkansas Culture," nineteen brief essays under "Arkansas Literature" are presented, including such intriguing subjects as "Patriotic Gore," "Slow Trains and Razorbacks," "Poet's [sic] Poetry," and "The State Without A History." Lest one think literature as commonly conceived is omitted, there are sections on Octave Thanet, John Gould Fletcher, and Opie Reed. Not only is "The Arkansas Traveler" included, but also a section "The New Arkansas Traveler." (And throughout the volume there are some sixty references to The Arkansas Gazette.). "Music in Arkansas Culture," though only seven pages, has ten subheads including the legacies of folk music, blues, gospel, country music, and rock and roll. Even the controversial rock group Black Oak Arkansas is discussed.
Michael Dougan is Professor of History in Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, where he has been since 1970. A native of Neosho, Missouri, he went to college at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, then received the master's and the doctorate at Emory University, Atlanta. He has published extensively about the Civil War, upon which subject he is expert.
Arkansas Odyssey is a tour de force of state history. Fortunate indeed is the state with a historian like Michael Dougan, whose work embodies the sentiment of William Quesenberry's verse, the book's final words: "God loves not him that loves not Arkansas !"
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