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Each week at In The Past Lane, the American history podcast, host and Historian-at-Large, Edward T. O’Donnell, brings you news, stories, interviews, and special features on all things U.S. history. His aim is to be both engaging and thought-provoking, inspired by the notion that history explains the world we live in and provides insights into how to achieve a more prosperous, peaceful, and just future. So come along with us as we journey In The Past Lane.  

Jun 23, 2018

This week at In The Past Lane, the history podcast, I speak with historian Patricia Nelson Limerick about her iconic book, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. When this work was first published 30 years ago in 1987, it sent shock waves through the community of historians whose work focused on the American west. Up to that time, much of the history of the West had focused on narrative histories of events like the famed Long Drive that established the ranching industry and biographies of famous white men like Kit Carson and Billy the Kid. This work ignored or misrepresented the stories of women, Native Americans, African Americans, and immigrants. It also glossed over the ugly aspects of westward expansion, like violence, dispossession, racism, exploitation, failure, and environmental degradation. Limerick’s book reframed the understanding of the American West, insisting that these themes were essential elements of that story. Her book infuriated many old guard scholars. But it also inspired a whole generation of new scholars who went on to transform the study of western history from a sleepy subfield into one of the most dynamic fields of US history. In this episode, I begin by first explaining the core aspects of the Old Western History – it’s key myths and myopias – many of them originating in the work of entertainers like Buffalo Bill and Hollywood westerns. Then I sit down with Patricia Nelson Limerick for a fun and fascinating conversation.

Among the many things discussed in this episode: 

How and why was our understanding of the American West shaped by Buffalo Bill and Hollywood for much of the 20th century?

How did New Western History scholars like Patricia Nelson Limerick radically reshape our understanding of the American West?

Who was Buffalo Bill and how did his Wild West show come to exert a profound influence on the way Americans understood the history of the West?

Historian Patricia Nelson Limerick reflects on the 30th anniversary of her landmark book, Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West.

Why the history of the American West is incomplete without women, immigrants, Native Americans, and African Americans.

How the New Western History challenged the heroic Manifest Destiny narrative of westward expansion by emphasizing violence, dispossession, racism, exploitation, failure, and environmental degradation.

Related ITPL podcast episodes:
Episode 044 with historian Richard White talking about his book, The Republic for Which It Stands.

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Andy G. Cohen, “A Human Being” (Free Music Archive)

Blue Dot Sessions, “Sage the Hunter” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© In The Past Lane, 2018

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