Idaho’s history is as complicated and diverse as any Western state, yet it is often overlooked in narratives about the American West. Adam M. Sowards’s new edited volume, Idaho’s Place: A New History of the Gem State attempts to claim Idaho’s rightful place while also shedding light on its rich history. From the state’s Indigenous roots and early environmental battles to recent political and social events, these essays provide much-needed context for understanding Idaho’s important role in the development of the West. Here, Adam Sowards introduces the book and makes a compelling case for more critical examination of Idaho’s history.
What is Idaho’s place? It is a deceptively simple question. The answer, of course, is, it depends. It depends partially on how we frame the question. If we consider it geographically, Idaho is a meeting ground of the Great Basin, Rocky Mountains, and Columbia Plateau and is characterized by stunning sagebrush, majestic mountains, and roiling rivers. If we examine it politically, Idaho is as conservatively Republican as any state today, but beginning in 1971, two Democratic governors served six consecutive terms, and the state has long been represented by fiercely independent Republicans and Democrats unafraid of bucking their party establishments and serving the state more than a party’s ideology. If we conceive of it ethnically, Idaho is one of the most homogeneous states in the nation, yet once nearly one-third of its population was Chinese, a long and proud Basque tradition strongly influences cultural events and identities, and its many tribal members represent a continuing vital presence.