Friday, August 27, 2021

Vivienne Sanders's "Wales, the Welsh and the Making of America"

Born in Cardiff, Wales, Vivienne Sanders writes on American history and is living in Porthcawl, in South Wales.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Wales, the Welsh and the Making of America, and reported the following:
Page 99 is probably one of the most exciting pages in the book. It is part of a long, descriptive account of the difficulties faced by the Lewis and Clark expedition. There is plenty of action on the page. Meriwether Lewis gets shot in the backside by the boatman, then survives William Clark washing his wound in murky Missouri river water. The men are plagued by malarial mosquitoes and infected bites, by the long, sharp spikes of prickly pear piercing their moccasins, by eye gnats, by a flea-infested gift from the Chinook, and by boils, dysentery and sore eyes.

In some ways, page 99 is typical of the book in that it lets the actors speak for themselves whenever possible. Lewis can be heard cursing his boatman (“Damn you, you have shot me”) and bemoaning the mosquitoes (“my dog even howls with the torture”).

On the other hand, page 99 probably gives the browser a misleading impression of the whole work. There are not many pages like this one, with its extended dramatic narrative but lack of evaluation of how much anyone with Welsh ancestry contributed to the development of the United States.

Re-reading page 99 reminded me that the Lewis chapter worried me for several reasons. First, I was giving Lewis more extended coverage than anyone else before page 99, and I feared that this might be unbalancing the book. In the end, I chose to keep the section intact, partly because it is such a wonderful story, but mostly because it shows more than Lewis’s contribution to American expansion – it serves to illuminate the determination, courage and contribution of the ordinary Welsh pioneers on the moving frontier. Second, as I wrote about Lewis’s dealings with the Native Americans, I was conscious that while many Welsh emigrated to escape English domination and English landowners, they often went on to behave similarly toward the continent’s original inhabitants. I never really faced this issue in the book. I focused instead upon my chosen remit, which was what the Welsh and Welsh Americans contributed to the making of the United States, and left it open to the readers to decide whether or not they liked the America that resulted. Third, this anxiety about the balance between narrative and analysis and about whether my book was in the old triumphalist tradition of outline histories of the United States and therefore insufficiently “woke”, added to my fears that my Welsh patriotism might have ruined my reputation as a historian! Time will tell...
Follow Vivienne Sanders on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue