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Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush

Overview

Winner of the 2001 Bancroft Prize.
Historical insight is the alchemy that transforms the familiar story of the Gold Rush into something sparkling and new. The world of the Gold Rush that comes down to us through fiction and film—of unshaven men named Stumpy and Kentuck raising hell and panning for gold—is one of half-truths. In this brilliant work of social history, Susan Johnson enters the well-worked diggings of Gold Rush history and strikes a rich lode. She finds a dynamic ...

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Overview

Winner of the 2001 Bancroft Prize.
Historical insight is the alchemy that transforms the familiar story of the Gold Rush into something sparkling and new. The world of the Gold Rush that comes down to us through fiction and film—of unshaven men named Stumpy and Kentuck raising hell and panning for gold—is one of half-truths. In this brilliant work of social history, Susan Johnson enters the well-worked diggings of Gold Rush history and strikes a rich lode. She finds a dynamic social world in which the conventions of identity—ethnic, national, and sexual—were reshaped in surprising ways. She gives us the all-male households of the diggings, the mines where the men worked, and the fandango houses where they played. With a keen eye for character and story, Johnson restores the particular social world that issued in the Gold Rush myths we still cherish.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The California Gold Rush is commonly identified with the peculiarly American movement of Manifest Destiny, but as Johnson reveals in this informative study of the period, the Gold Rush was in fact one of the most cosmopolitan and multicultural events of the 19th century. Mexicans, French, Chinese, African-Americans, Chileans and Miwok Indians all panned for gold alongside their WASP counterparts in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. The collision of these cultures sometimes led to humorous misunderstandings (as when Chinese miners mirthfully watched a white colleague struggle to use chopsticks), but just as frequently it produced ugly crimes, like when Mexican prospector Joaquin Murrieta was assaulted and evicted from his mining claim by jealous whites. Complicating relations in the mines was the almost complete absence of women; Johnson shows how men of all races found themselves reassessing gender roles in ways that had everything to do with ethnicity and cultural hegemony. For example, Anglo miners tended to feminize Chinese and French men, who made their fortunes in laundry and cooking as often as in mining gold. Johnson skillfully investigates the ramifications of these social pressures, though at times she surrenders to the ivory tower habit of interpreting the interpretations, analyzing the discourse about events instead of the events themselves. Hers is an intensely academic brand of social history: readers will find phrases like "homosocial," "gendered meanings" and "constructions of race" liberally sprinkled throughout the text. Underneath the jargon, however, is a valuable study of the complex, often troubled societies that contributed to one of America's great national mythologies. 15 photos, 1 map. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393320992
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/28/2000
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 643,556
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Lee Johnson is professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations 9
Preface 11
Prologue: Joaquin Murrieta and the Bandits 25
Part I Rush
Chapter 1 On the Eve of Emigration 57
Part II Boom
Chapter 2 Domestic Life in the Diggings 99
Chapter 3 Bulls, Bears, and Dancing Boys 141
Chapter 4 Mining Gold and Making War 185
Part III Bust
Chapter 5 Dreams That Died 237
Chapter 6 The Last Fandango 275
Epilogue: Telling Tales 315
Notes 345
Selected Bibliography 425
Index 449
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2002

    An enticing review of gender relationships in 19th century California.

    This work sheds new light on the social world of the California Gold-rush,and the way it altered traditional roles of gender and race in 19th century American society. Most informative and quite enjoyable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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