The Relevance of Print and the Old West

I wrote my senior thesis using Walt Whitman’s lost novel, Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, as a lens to examine the Western canon. Life and Adventures of Jack Engle was discovered by a graduate student scouring online newspaper archives and found a serialized novel written by Whitman. In my paper I looked at how the field of digital humanities is uncovering old newspapers and magazines and discovering new literary texts that never had the opportunity to be in the canon. I question how the canon, the literature we deem the best of the west, can be taught in school and held in such high esteem when we don’t even have all the literature to fully judge from. I also address the perception that print is dying and argue that technology is in fact sustaining it.

I saw an article magazine True West titled “Time of Transition” by Stuart Rosebrook.  The subhead states, “In 2017, Western history and fiction thrived in a dynamic publishing environment.” The article looks at how self-publishing has evolved the way literature is created and parallels it to early American writers like Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin. “For those who love the West, its culture and people, its natural wonders and communities, I believe the trend foretells a positive future,” Rosebrook states. "From your locally owned book-seller to Amazon.com, E-Bay.com, AbeBooks.com, access to the catalog of books on Western history and fiction has never been greater."

Currently there are more books written about the 21st-century than the 19th-century gothic. Rosebrook proves this by providing three pages worth of 2017 Western literature—fiction and non-fiction—listed by category. The new biography on Ulysses S. Grant (Grant by Ron Chernow) is impossible to keep on the shelf at our local bookstore.  The Pinks: The First Women Detectives, Operatives, and Spies with the Pinkerton National Dectective Agency by Chris Enss is the best law and order history. The University of Oklahoma Press is considered the best western history publisher.

My entire online brand is situated upon things—print publications and Western culture—that seem less and less relevant everyday, and it inspires me to see people who see it differently. The field of digital humanities is making strides in unveiling lost texts in archives; authors are publishing their own works through Amazon Create Space; and Western literature is preserving the Old West.