My New Book: A Historical Dictionary of the American Frontier

Last month, a reference work that Jay Buckley and I published our coauthored Historical Dictionary of the American Frontier with Rowman & Littlefield. It is a part of their ongoing reference dictionary series. I wouldn’t recommend it for leisurely reading (it is a reference work) but would encourage everyone to put in a request at their university and public libraries that they acquire a copy for their reference collection.

I had promised a couple people that I would explain the back-story behind the book, because their is a back-story. In Fall 2003, my last semester as an undergraduate at BYU, a new young professor (and my unofficial adviser), Jay Buckley, invited me to work for him as a Research Assistant. A couple years earlier, John Wunder (my the future MA and PhD adviser) had been approached by the press to pen the book, and he had suggested handing it off to Jay. When I joined the project, Jay had been at it for a bit, and I helped in researching and drafting entries for the dictionary. I checked some old files on my computer and it looks like I knocked out a bunch of the L, M, N, O, P, and R entries. Then, I graduated, moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, and completed an M.A. (2006) and Ph.D. (2010). At the 2012 Western History Association conference in Denver, Jay approached me and said something along the lines of, “Brenden – remember that book you were helping me with as an RA? How would you like to take over the manuscript finish it, and usher it through edits for co-authorship.” At the time, I had hit something of a roadblock on my own book, so I thought it would be a good way to clear my head. In the interceding years, Jay had been very busy, publishing a biography of William Clark and a history of Orem, Utah, co-authoring a book on Zebulon Pike’s exploits in the West and a book on the death of Meriwether Lewis, publishing lots of articles, earning tenure, etc… He’s an exceptionally productive guy, but this one project had languished on a back-burner.

I agreed. I thought it would be a quick turnaround, but as most things in academic writing and publishing, it never goes as smoothly as one hopes. Once I entered in conversations with our editor, it became apparent that they were not only looking for something different (the scope of the book shifted somewhat) but it needed to be expanded. Over the next couple years, I chipped away at it, about doubling the size of the manuscript.

In this, its first edition, the dictionary focuses on the early stages of Euro-American exploration and development of multiple (English, French, Spanish, Russian, American, Mexican) frontiers. If it sells out well, there may be a second edition, which I would author alone and expand to fully incorporate latter stages of frontier development.

It has been a real pleasure to work on the project and I am grateful to Jay for 1. hiring me as an undergraduate R.A.; 2. Supporting me as I worked on graduate degrees with lots of encouragement; and 3. bringing me on as a coauthor so many years later. It has been great!

Library Catalog Review excerpts:

  • Library Journal: “Coauthors Buckley and Rensink encompass the ambitious scope of expeditions into North American from the late 15th to early 19th centuries to deliver a chronology, introduction, and dictionary of more than 300 cross-referenced entries for the various players, including religious orders and indigenous peoples caught up in the maelstrom of ‘manifest destiny.’ The authors wisely dedicate a third of the work to an extensive bibliography. Verdict: A solid starting point for readers seeking further exploration of Western history.”
  • Booklist, Patricia Hogan: “This useful guide covers early American exploration and frontier life, from the late-fifteenth through the late-nineteenth centuries. More than 300 cross-referenced A-Z entries cover people, places, events, and institutions. The preface provides scope and methodology as well as a chronology and four small black-and-white maps. The entries are brief and concise. 121-page bibliography completes the volume. A good starting point to help users learn more about the growth of the American West. It belongs in most public and academic libraries.”
  • CHOICE: “Historians Buckley and Rensink have worked together to create a historical dictionary that covers a broad historical time period, array of people, and political and social issues. The A-Z entries provide access to information for students and others doing introductory research. The volume is divided into eight sections, with a foreword, preface, maps, chronology, introduction, dictionary, bibliography, and information about the authors. Four black-and-white maps illustrate the explorations of the American frontier by French, Spanish, and government agents, and by mountain men. A chronology lists dates beginning with Viking explorations in 986 through the 1903-06 navigation of the Northwest Passage. The introduction examines the connotations of the term ‘frontier,’ as defined in the US and by explorers from different countries. The dictionary contains both names and terms, with preference given to individuals or events that had a lasting impact on the expansion of the American frontier. . . .[T]he work offers ample cross-references among entries and an excellent, up-to-date bibliography of sources for the further discovery of information. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates; general readers.”
  • Reference Reviews: “The value of Buckley and Rensink’s work lies in its bibliography. This is a classified list, and extends to 121 pages. It is far and away the best feature of the book.”


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