American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture

American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture

by Brian Roberts
     
 
California during the gold rush was a place of disputed claims, shoot-outs, gambling halls, and prostitution; a place populated by that rough and rebellious figure, the forty-niner; in short, a place that seems utterly unconnected to middle-class culture. In American Alchemy, however, Brian Roberts offers a surprising challenge to this

Overview

California during the gold rush was a place of disputed claims, shoot-outs, gambling halls, and prostitution; a place populated by that rough and rebellious figure, the forty-niner; in short, a place that seems utterly unconnected to middle-class culture. In American Alchemy, however, Brian Roberts offers a surprising challenge to this assumption.

Roberts points to a long-neglected truth of the gold rush: many of the northeastern forty-niners who ventured westward were in fact middle-class in origin, status, and values. Tracing the experiences and adventures both of these men and of the "unseen" forty-niners--women who stayed back East while their husbands went out West--he shows that, whatever else the gold seekers abandoned on the road to California, they did not simply turn their backs on middle-class culture.

Ultimately, Roberts argues, the story told here reveals an overlooked chapter in the history of the formation of the middle class. While the acquisition of respectability reflects one stage in this history, he says, the gold rush constitutes a second stage--a rebellion against standards of respectability.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
An important work within the context of gold rush studies.

Enterprise & Society

A welcome addition to work on the California gold rush and on nineteenth-century white, middle-class culture.

Journal of American History

Offers a fresh look at a familiar episode in U.S. history.

Journal of the Early Republic

[This book] achieves a "gold standard" by making something as familiar as the Gold Rush uncomfortably new.

American Historical Review

An important book, convincingly relocating the opening cultural crisis of the American middle class.

Harvard Business History Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807860939
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
06/19/2003
Series:
Cultural Studies of the United States
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
360
Lexile:
1360L (what's this?)
File size:
4 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
[A] refreshing approach to the fabled era of the California gold rush. . . . This book raises questions and provides answers.—Choice

[This book] achieves a "gold standard" by making something as familiar as the Gold Rush uncomfortably new. By chipping away at an old story and rearranging the pieces into rich new narratives . . . Roberts remind[s] us how differently important big events are and that historians have a responsibility to give voice to the ways in which these stories can be remembered.—American Historical Review

Brian Roberts makes fascinating use of his evidence—the letters and journals of forty-niners and their kith and kin back home. The gold rush, he argues, operated as a kind of boot-camp for the emerging American middle class, offering men an opportunity to steel themselves for the rough and tumble world of the marketplace. For the 'gold rush widows' left behind, the experience was equally important in encouraging a new kind of independence.—John Mack Faragher, Yale University

Offers a fresh look at a familiar episode in U.S. history. . . . An impressive addition to scholarship on nineteenth-century American culture and class formation. [This book] demands the attention of historians in a number of fields and should influence our understanding of the Gold Rush for some time to come.—Journal of the Early Republic

An important book, convincingly relocating the opening cultural crisis of the American middle class from the turn of the century back to the late 1840s.—Harvard Business History Review

An important work within the context of gold rush studies.—Enterprise & Society

A welcome addition to work on the California gold rush and on nineteenth-century white, middle-class culture. Brian Roberts provides rich literary analysis of letters and diaries. . . . [Roberts] is magnificent. No other historian has read these letters and diaries with such keen insight, nor has anyone else captured the contradictions and conceits of white middle-class culture so effectively.—Journal of American History

Meet the Author

Brian Roberts is assistant professor of history at California State University in Sacramento.

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