Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pg. 99: Michael Elliott's "Custerology"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Michael Elliott's Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer.

About the book, from the publisher:
On a hot summer day in 1876, George Armstrong Custer led the Seventh Cavalry to the most famous defeat in U.S. military history. Badly outnumbered and exhausted from a day of forced marches, Custer’s forces were quickly overwhelmed by warriors from the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. The Seventh Cavalry lost more than half of the 400 men who rode into the Indian camp, and every soldier under Custer’s direct command was killed.

It’s easy to understand why this tremendous defeat shocked the American public at the time. But with Custerology, Michael A. Elliott tackles the far more complicated question of why the battle retains such power for Americans today. Weaving vivid historical accounts of Custer at Little Bighorn with contemporary commemorations that range from battle reenactments to the unfinished Crazy Horse memorial, Elliott reveals a Custer and a West whose legacies are still vigorously contested. He takes readers to each of the important places of Custer’s life, from his Civil War home in Michigan to the site of his famous demise, to show how more than a century later, the legacy of Custer still haunts the American imagination. Along the way, Elliott introduces us to Native American activists, Park Service rangers, and devoted history buffs; draws us into the arcana of Custerology and the back rooms of High Plains bars; and reveals how Custer and the Indian Wars continue to be both a powerful symbol of America’s bloody past and a crucial key to understanding the nation’s multicultural present.

By turns dramatic and meditative, Custerology moves seamlessly between past and present, delivering both a bracing narrative and a potent reminder of why we care so much about history in the first place.
Among the early praise for the book:

“Michael Elliott’s Custerology is vivid, trenchant, engrossing, and important. The American soldier George Armstrong Custer has been the subject of very nearly incessant debate for almost a century and a half, and the debate is multicultural, multinational, and multimedia. Mr. Elliott’s book provides by far the best overview, and no one interested in the long-haired soldier whom the Indians called Son of the Morning Star can afford to miss it.”
—Larry McMurtry

“That any writer could find a fresh approach to George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn is a phenomenon. Yet Michael Elliott presents a fresh approach by relating the public obsession that has flourished for 131 years to its continuing resonance in the present and, almost certainly, the future.”
—Robert Utley, author of Custer and Me: A Historian’s Memoir

Read an excerpt from Custerology and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

Michael A. Elliott is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English at Emory University. He specializes in the literature and culture of the United States from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century. He also teaches and writes about contemporary Native American literatures. His teaching interests include the nineteenth-century novel, race in American fiction, Native American literature, and cultural studies. A recipient of fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University, and the Beneicke Library at Yale University, Elliott’s research frequently focuses on the way that narratives travel across genres: fiction, ethnography, history, the law. He is the author of The Culture Concept: Writing and Difference in the Age of Realism (Minnesota, 2002) and, with Claudia Stokes, the co-editor of American Literary Realism: A Methodological Reader (NYU, 2003).

The Page 99 Test: Custerology.

--Marshal Zeringue