Title Reviewed:
A History of Iowa

Author Reviewed:
Leland L. Sage

Allan G. Bogue


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 71, Issue 2, pp 193-195

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

A History of Iowa. By Leland L. Sage. (Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1974. Pp. xii, 376. Maps, figures, tables, illustrations, notes, index. $9.95.)

Iowans have been less successful in developing a comprehensive historical literature dealing with their state than have some of their midwestern neighbors. Opinions differ as to whether this is attributable to the division of resources between two official historical agencies, the natural perversity of the Hawkeye, so lovingly delineated by Meredith Wilson, or still other reasons. But it is a fact that eras in which outstanding progress has been made in collecting manuscripts, developing library resources, and encouraging the writing of articles and books of quality about Iowa have been all too rare in the state's history. Although dedicated amateurs, capable professionals, and well intentioned politicians have enlisted in the cause, perverse troglodytes have also helped in shaping Iowa's state history programs, and the alternatives posed have sometimes been tragi-comic. Should there be more manuscript collecting and fewer steamboat excursions? Why preserve Bob Feller's uniform lovingly, having thrown out the state records dealing with an important state business, the insurance industry, in order to make room for a new lavatory? Frustrations about such matters have sometimes reached high levels indeed, and recent dueling challenges bandied within the Board of Curators of the Historical Society were more than mere horseplay.

For some forty years Leland L. Sage moved unperturbed through this unpredictable environment, unfailingly courteous and usually with a knowing twinkle in his eyes. Arriving at Iowa State Teachers College with a Ph.D. in European history, he discovered that the local library holdings and his own personal resources would not support the continuing research that he believed every historian should pursue. He turned, therefore, to midwestern history, devoting many years to the preparation of a meticulous and comprehensive biography of one of Iowa's most powerful politicians, Senator William Boyd Allison.

In the volume reviewed here, Professor Sage has tried to fill the long felt need for a scholarly one volume history of the state of Iowa. He does not regard his work as definitive and indeed is hopeful that it will be tested by others engaging in similar ventures. The books of such writers plus additional research projects will pave the way, he suggests, for a scholarly multivolume history of Iowa. But here, in a text of 335 pages plus notes, Sage has provided a succinct, readable volume which in general incorporates the findings of recent relevant research. Sage has maintained a high level of objectivity throughout the narrative and has laid a number of old myths to rest in the process. True, he is a bit too concerned with "firsts" and somewhat given to moralizing, but he carries neither to excess.

Sage's keen interest in the political history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is evident in the chronological emphasis of this book, and some will conclude that he has paid less attention to economic, social, and cultural history than is appropriate. This reviewer falls in the latter group, but he also realizes that Sage's emphasis to a considerable extent follows the emphasis of the historical literature that was available to him. On balance Sage has rendered a great service to lowans and to the members of the scholarly community. It is hoped that publication of this book along with recent changes in Iowa's historical programs presage a new productive era in the support and writing of Iowa history.

University of Wisconsin, Madison Allan G. Bogue

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.