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ISU English professor publishes book on women in Western history and literature

August 6, 2018

Amanda Zink

POCATELLO - Amanda Zink, an associate professor in Idaho State University’s Department of English and Philosophy, recently published a book exploring the history of interactions between women in the American West.

“Fictions of Western American Domesticity: Indian, Mexican, and Anglo Women in Print Culture, 1850-1950” interprets literary texts that discuss how domesticity and housekeeping shaped the culture of the West. Zink refers to a variety of texts: novels, magazine articles, memoirs, cookbooks, essays written by students at the Indian boarding schools and even pediatrician examination cards.

In examining these texts, Zink hoped to understand how women slipped the restraints of conventional roles like motherhood and homemaking and which women could resist these roles.

“Who has the option to be educated?” she asked. “To make her own choices? To have a role in public life instead of just in the private life of home and family? To choose not to be a mother? To be an American? The central question the book answers, then, also became: ‘how does a woman’s race or ethnicity shape the answers to these questions?’”

Zink found that as many Anglo women achieved liberation from conventional gender roles and moved to the West, they imposed the same gender roles on Native and Mexican women to Americanize and Christianize them. At the same time, Native and Mexican women wrote back to these Anglo women, arguing for a more diverse definition of the “American woman” that would include their experiences.

“Fictions of Western American Domesticity” first took shape during Zink’s doctoral studies in 2009. In the nine years that have passed since its inception, Zink has consulted countless magazines, newspapers, paintings and other preserved texts. For example, she spent weeks at Chicago’s Newberry Library reading magazines and newspapers written by Native students at boarding schools across the U.S. and at the University of Illinois library paging through a century of Good Housekeeping issues.

“The research for this book was actually a wonderful experience,” she said. “Not only did I get to spend time doing what I love the most about my discipline — reading stories! — but I also spent countless hours digging through archives to look for instances where Anglo, Native and Mexican women were having conversations about domesticity in the West.”

The book is now available for purchase from the University of New Mexico Press and on Amazon.com. There will also be a public book reception for Zink this fall. Zink said she hopes it will be enjoyed by academics and layman history buffs alike.

“I think almost anyone could find in this book something of interest and relevance to living in the West,” she said. “Mostly, I hope the people who read it find themselves re-thinking their perceptions of the West and its many and diverse inhabitants.”

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