Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1982, pp. 122-23.
Ethnicity on the Great Plains is a collection of essays based on a conference sponsored by the Center for Great Plains Studies. The editor has selected some of the best papers from that conference; attempting to maintain a balance among different academic disciplines, ethnic groups discussed, and various subregions of the Great Plains. The focus of the symposia was on the question of the relationship between the physical environment of the Great Plains and the persistence or accommodation of ethnic culture.
The resulting book is a satisfying and pathbreaking multidisciplinary achievement on a neglected topic. The study of rural ethnic groups has been greatly overshadowed in recent years by the study of urban ethnic groups, and this volume provides a welcome change of diet and a reminder of the importance of rural settlements to the life of many ethnic groups in North America prior to World War II. Students of the Great Plains are also well aware that the subject of ethnicity in the region has received little scholarly attention, despite its historical importance.
The book includes contributions by historians, anthropologists, a folklorist, cultural geographers, and sociologists. Although a wide variety of disciplines are represented, the result is not a number of disconnected pieces that fail to communicate across disciplinary lines; rather, it is a good mix of different research strategies and theoretical approaches that are mutually enriching. Many of the authors have themselves begun to break down some disciplinary barriers in their own approaches. For example, historian Kathleen Conzen's stimulating theoretical piece, "Historical Approaches to the study of Rural Ethnic Communities," makes good use of past research in rural sociology, while Josef Barton's "Land, Labor, and Community in Nueces: Czech Farmers and Mexican Laborers in South Texas, 1880- 1930" uses the latest insights from cultural anthropology to illuminate the interrelationship between economic adjustment, family and community patterns, and ethnic identity among two different groups in the same region. But even those studies that are firmly implanted within one discipline, such as folklorist Linda Degh's "Folk Religion as Ideology for Ethnic Survival" and geographer Terry Jordan's "A Religious Geography of the Hill Country Germans," are still of wide interest and are intelligible to students of ethnicity in other disciplines.