Title Reviewed:
An Ohio Reader: 1750 to the Civil War; An Ohio Reader: Reconstruction to the Present

Author Reviewed:
Thomas H. Smith; Thomas H. Smith

William Giffin


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 72, Issue 3, pp 263-265

Article Type:
Book Review

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An Ohio Reader: 1750 to the Civil War. Edited by Thomas H. Smith. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975. Pp. 324. Notes. Paperbound, $4.95.)

An Ohio Reader: Reconstruction to the Present. Edited by Thomas H. Smith (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975. Pp. 439. Notes. Paper-bound, $5.95.)

An Ohio Reader contains approximately 140 documents organized topically. Thomas H. Smith, director of the Ohio Historical Society, explains that four criteria were used in compiling the selected documents. One, they should relate to topics traditionally regarded as important in Ohio history. Two, the selections should be self explanatory, containing survey or descriptive information pertinent to their subjects. Three, within the limits of available documents the selections should present contrasting viewpoints regarding controversial issues. Four, the selections must be primary sources giving contemporaneous and eyewitness descriptions, accounts, or views of the subjects discussed.

As the result of the editor's meticulous adherence to these standards, the Ohio Reader is a documentary history of Ohio from the viewpoints of establishment figures, usually men in Ohio government and journalism. It is almost devoid of documents written by members of such minority groups as women and blacks. Most of the selections come from state documents and the works of public officials in the form of laws, treaties, letters, speeches, and messages. Also in this category are many official reports of governmental departments and agencies. "Poverty's Penalty—How Our Poor Are Cared For," Report of the Board of State Charities, 1870 (second volume, pp. 81-84) is illustrative of reports which are particularly informative regarding problems within the state. Other selections are largely newspaper accounts, magazine articles, and travel accounts. Greatest space is given to traditional topics directly involving government, war, and politics. Literature, art, music, religion, and the purely social-cultural aspects of the history of Indians, blacks, women, and white ethnic groups apparently do not appear because the related documents do not conform to the editor's selection criteria. Social, cultural, economic, and environmental topics are only discussed as political or public issues. Although the selections represent the views of the state's establishment, An Ohio Reader is by no means chauvinistic. Using the problems approach, it emphasizes divisive issues including racism affecting Indians and blacks, nativism, religious bigotry, labor exploitation, political corruption, urban violence, sexism, and environmental pollution.

These volumes are more suitable for general readers than for students in the classroom, although the editor intends them for use by both. The introductions to the topically organized sections, while sound and well written, are too brief to provide the historical perspective needed by most students. Two to three pages of editorial introduction and explanation are given for each topical grouping, totaling ten in each volume. The high quality of the selections can best be appreciated by persons having a background knowledge of the history of Ohio or of the region and the nation. The documents include explicit statements of contemporary views and biases which teachers can use in the classroom. For example, the anti-German hysteria of the World War I period is cogently illustrated by Governor James M. Cox's message asserting "that the teaching of German to our children … is part of a conspiracy formed long ago by the German government in Berlin" (second volume, p. 242). The documents are generally informative and interesting, even entertaining. One example of the amusing selections is Charles Dickens' account of his journey from Cincinnati to Sandusky in 1842. Dickens observed that the experience of traveling by stagecoach over a corduroy road in Ohio was so unique that it "would be impossible to experience a similar set of sensations, in any other circumstances, unless perhaps in attempting to go up to the top of St. Paul's in an omnibus" (first volume, p. 123). In short, measured by its own standards, An Ohio Reader is a work of excellent quality and is recommended for the general reader of the history of Ohio and this region.

Indiana State University, Terre Haute William Giffin

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.