Title Reviewed:
A Michigan Reader, 11,000 B.C. to A.D. 1865; A Michigan Reader, 1865 to the Present

Author Reviewed:
George S. May; Herbert J. Brinks; Robert M. Warner; C. Warren Vander Hill

George M. Blackburn


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 275-277

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

A Michigan Reader, 11,000 B.C. to A.D. 1865. Edited by George S. May and Herbert J. Brinks. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974. Notes. Paperbound, $4.95.)

A Michigan Reader, 1865 to the Present. Edited by Robert M. Warner and C. Warren Vander Hill. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974. Pp. x, 319. Notes. Paperbound, $4.95.)

Teachers of United States history have a wide variety of supplemental readings for their classes; most teachers of state and local history have no such riches. Though the editors of these two volumes disclaim any pretense of solving this problem for teachers of Michigan history, they do attempt to "provide in convenient form a modest selection of articles from a wide variety of sources" (Warner and Vander Hill, p. xi) on the history of Michigan from the Indian era to the present.

Of necessity, the readings in the two volumes are diverse and heterogeneous. Wisely, the editors arrange the selections by topics within broad chronological periods. Yet, in an interpretive foreword, Bruce Catton suggests an alternative pattern of organization for Michigan history. Evoking boyhood memories, Catton writes of his beloved North Country, the area north of Bay City, which is "old, half empty, touched by the cold winds that drift down from the Arctic, with trees and sand and crystal-clear water and drowsy small towns. …" Only grudgingly does Catton acknowledge the existence of Detroit and other southern industrial centers, claiming that "Detroit, after all, is not really Michigan" (May and Brinks, p. 6).

Most selections in the two volumes are descriptions by contemporaries of Catton's "two Michigans." In the early days Michigan was all North Country, the haunt of the Indians, fur traders, missionaries, and soldiers. The French did little to transform this area, though French cultural influences lingered in Detroit into the twentieth century. Little development occurred during the short British period, 1761 to 1796, a period marked by Indian conflict and the American Revolution. The transformation of the North Country did not begin until the American phase of Michigan history. The period prior to the Civil War encompassed frontier settlement and the beginning of exploitation of such natural resources as timber, iron, copper, and fish. Unfortunately, Edward Tiffin's famous, albeit inaccurate, report of 1815, which concluded that Michigan was not worth surveying, much less settling, is not included. Nor is there any selection indicating the significance of the Erie Canal in the development of Michigan.

The second volume describes such important features of the last third of the nineteenth century in Michigan as the lumber industry, immigration, and the business oriented state government. Around the turn of the century Governors Hazen Pingree and Chase Osborn helped Michigan politics escape from the domination of lumber barons and railroad men. Another important theme in the second volume is the transformation of much of southern Michigan from North Country to industrial complex: the automobile industry originated early in the twentieth century, and big labor organized some thirty years later. Thus arose the major forces that still influence economics and politics in the state. The selections are particularly good in depicting the struggle between the United Automobile Workers and the automobile companies in the sitdown strikes of the 1930s.

In addition, the editors extensively, and honestly, portray social aspects of Michigan which are as disparate as the Ku Klux Klan and "The Spirit of Interlochen" by Van Cliburn. Perhaps farthest removed from Michigan's North Country is the final selection; Malcom X's "Growing Up in Michigan" vividly depicts a particular hell, near Lansing, which was his boyhood home around 1930.

The authors of the selections include many famous and/or capable authorities ranging from Father Louis Hennepin to Alexis de Tocqueville, from Francis Parkman to Sidney Fine. Each selection is introduced with a headnote providing provenance for the writing which follows and also including excellent, brief, current bibliographical references for the topic. The editors and publisher should be pleased with their work; reachers and teachers in Michigan history certainly will be.

Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant George M. Blackburn

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.