Title Reviewed:
An Ohio Portrait

Author Reviewed:
George W. Knepper

K. Austin Kerr


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 73, Issue 2, pp 152-153

Article Type:
Book Review

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An Ohio Portrait. By George W. Knepper. (Columbus: Ohio Historical Society, for Ohio American Revolution Bicentennial Advisory Commission, 1976. Pp. 282. Illustrations, maps, index. $20.00.)

An Ohio Portrait was produced as part of that state's celebration of the bicentennial of the American Revolution. Upon seeing the title, this reviewer assumed the book was a pictoral history. It is not. It is studded with photographs and illustrations. But the author does not make statements pic- torially; he chose pictures, apparently, to amplify, in some unstated manner, verbal remarks in the text. In contrast with a volume like The American Albumn the reader comes away with relatively few visual impressions of change and continuity, or even of what life was like in Ohio over the past two centuries. Pictures of individuals mentioned in the text abound; other sorts of images are not arranged as parts of pictoral essays.

The book is a word portrait with illustrations. Its coverage is broad, ranging from pre-Columbian times to the present. The emphasis is on succinct description and a brief mention of as many subjects as possible; the goal is to provide information pleasantly. The author succeeds in this purpose, yet the book ultimately is a failure. It is too brief to serve as an adequate reference volume, and follows too conventional a narrative tradition in historiography to provide the reader with themes or interpretations with which to gain much insight into his or her life. Surely professional historians and their sponsoring agencies have an obligation to bring the best of the new social history to bear on their efforts, especially those intended for a lay audience.

Not that the book is a disaster, even in these terms. Clevelanders, for instance, can gain a general understanding of how their city came to be in the modern sense. And all Ohioans will learn a little about many famous persons who led the state's political life or gained popular attention if only for a fleeting moment. But they will not learn much about changing patterns of social organization and their attendant value systems. And the author is prone to boosterism in his account of contemporary affairs.

In summary, this book is a lavish but disappointing effort. It suffers from an unclear purpose and inadequate consideration for the communicative value of visual images.

Ohio State University, Columbus

K. Austin Kerr

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.