Richard Slotkin

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Richard Slotkin (born 1942) is a cultural critic and historian. He is the Olin Professor of English and American Studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, and in 2010 was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[1] In 1995 he received the Mary C. Turpie Award of the American Studies Association for his contributions to teaching and program-building.[2] Slotkin writes novels alongside his historical research, and uses the process of writing the novels to clarify and refine his historical work.[3]


Slotkin received his BA from Brooklyn College, his MAAE from Wesleyan University and his PhD from Brown University.


Regeneration Through Violence[edit]

In Regeneration Through Violence: the Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 (Wesleyan University Press, 1973), the first of his trilogy on the mythology of the American West, Slotkin shows how the attitudes and traditions that shape American culture evolved from the social and psychological anxieties of European settlers struggling in a strange new world to claim the land and displace the Native Americans. Using the popular literature of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries - including captivity narratives, the Daniel Boone tales, and the writings of Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Melville - Slotkin traces the full development of this myth into a national myth.

The Fatal Environment[edit]

In The Fatal Environment: the myth of the frontier in the age of industrialization, 1800-1890, (Atheneum, 1985) Slotkin demonstrates how the myth of frontier expansion and subjugation of the Indians helped to justify the course of America's rise to wealth and power. Using Custer's Last Stand as a metaphor for what Americans feared might happen if the frontier should be closed and the "savage" element be permitted to dominate the "civilized," Slotkin shows the emergence by 1890 of a myth redefined to help Americans respond to the confusion and strife of industrialization and imperial expansion.

Gunfighter Nation[edit]

In Gunfighter nation: the myth of the frontier in twentieth-century America (Atheneum, 1992), the concluding volume of his highly acclaimed trilogy, Slotkin draws on a wide range of sources to examine the pervasive influence of Wild West myths on American culture and politics. In the third of a three-volume study in the development of the myth of the frontier in US literary, popular, and political culture from the colonial period to the present, Slotkin covers the expression of the frontier myth in such popular culture phenomena as dime novels, Buffalo Bill's Wild West, the formula fiction of 1900-40, and the Hollywood film. Covering historiography, Slotkin also discusses the exploration of the significance of the American frontier experience in Theodore Roosevelt's The Winning of the West and Frederick Jackson Turner's The Significance of the Frontier in American History.

Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality[edit]

The demands of military recruitment for American participation in the Great War (1917-18) compelled national leaders and opinion-makers to drastically revise the concept of American nationality, to fully incorporate racial and ethnic minorities that had been regarded as too alien and/or unfit for civil equality. Lost Battalions analyzes the development of the ensuing cultural crisis through the experience of two combat infantry regiments, largely recruited in Greater New York: the African-American 369th Infantry or “Harlem Hell Fighters” and the 308th Infantry of the 77th “Melting Pot” Division.

The Crater: A Novel of the Civil War[edit]

The Crater tells of an incident which took place on July 30, 1864, during the Union siege of Petersburg, Virginia. Union troops dug a 500-foot tunnel under Confederate lines, then used gunpowder to blow a huge crater in their defenses. Even so, the subsequent Union assault against the Confederates failed and the war continued for nearly another nine months. Slotkin creates a literary reenactment of the people and cultures involved in the so-called Battle of the Crater, emphasizing that distinctions of race and class did not end with the Civil War, but continued to be the defining social issue of the subsequent century.

The Return of Henry Starr[edit]

A fictionalized account of Old West outlaw Henry Starr, who was killed in 1921 while attempting to rob a bank. Starr, who was part Cherokee, committed crimes at least in part as a form of vengeance against the white man's taking of Cherokee land. He portrayed himself in an early silent movie.

Abe: A Novel of the Young Lincoln[edit]

A work of historical imagination, Abe immerses the reader in the isolating poverty and difficult circumstances that shaped Abraham Lincoln's character.

The novel won the 2000 Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction.[4]

No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864[edit]

An analysis of the political and military decisions that shaped the Battle of the Crater, and led to the war's largest racial massacre.


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  3. ^ Slotkin, Richard (June–September 2005). "Fiction for the Purposes of History". Rethinking History. 9 (2/3): 221–236. doi:10.1080/13642520500149152. 
  4. ^ "The Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction". Louisiana State University. Retrieved 9 August 2011. 

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