Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 6:4 (Fall 1986). Copyright © 1986 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


In The Canadian Prairies, Gerald Friesen has taken on a monumental task. Over the past generation prairie historiography has grown too rapidly to lend itself to synoptic treatments. It would therefore be unreasonable to expect specialists to be entirely satisfied with Friesen's treatment of their aspects of prairie history. I know I would like to edit his remarks on prairie literature, yet my informal inquiries suggest that this book is highly respected both by professional historians and by prairie pioneers, who find that Friesen's narration rings true to their actual experiences. One of Friesen's greatest achievements is in making of prairie history a lucid, readable, often entertaining narrative without denying its complexity. He outlines the main directions of scholarship on the principal issues, providing notes and bibliographical advice for further study. He strives to present contrary views with detachment, and often achieves a balance that clarifies contentious issues. This is particularly evident in his four excellent chapters on the native peoples and the fur trade, areas where questions of moral culpability have often overshadowed those of national achievement. By raising rather than adopting the arguments of the "revisionists," Friesen delivers the questions alive and whole. He also identifies important gaps in the study of the prairie past; most notably in basic sociological research. Yet he manages to sketch a reasonably full and human picture with the limited data available.