Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Christopher Herbert's "Gold Rush Manliness"

Christopher Herbert is associate professor of history at Columbia Basin College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Gold Rush Manliness: Race and Gender on the Pacific Slope, and reported the following:
Gold Rush Manliness is an examination of the creation of white manhood in two related gold rushes: California from 1848 to 1858 and British Columbia from 1858 to 1871. Page 99 falls near the start of the third chapter which deals with the development of the colonial state in British Columbia and how that process interacted with the redefinition of what it meant to be white and manly.

Specifically, page 99 falls in the middle of a discussion of a fascinating moment in British Columbia gold rush history when African American immigrants, fleeing the persecution of antebellum America, arrived in Victoria, the capital of the colony. They arrived at an opportune moment. Although the colony did not have a naturalization process, the colonial elite decide to grant African Americans the right to vote because, they claimed, the Dred Scott decision had stripped African Americans of their American citizenship. Not uncoincidentally, the newly-enfranchised black settlers cast their ballots in a solid block for the government, enabling the colony’s elites to hold on to power. This event set off a firestorm within the colony over the meaning of power and identity. Ultimately, the relative privileging of black immigrants over white Americans would prove to be short-lived as British perceptions regarding race and nationality evolved over the course of the rush.

In both California and British Columbia, the social and cultural disorder caused by the gold rushes encouraged gold rushers of all backgrounds to experiment with what it meant to be white and manly within the context of emerging systems of colonial domination and power. Gold Rush Manliness explores these themes through an examination of both locations, suggesting that events like the gold rushes need to be taken seriously as places where race and gender were made and remade in sometimes startling ways.
Learn more about Gold Rush Manliness at the University of Washington Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue