Gold Rush Manliness

Race and Gender on the Pacific Slope

Christopher Herbert

  • Published: November 2018
  • Subject Listing: Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Pacific Northwest / History
  • Bibliographic information: 288 pp., 7 bandw illus., 2 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Emil and Kathleen Sick Book Series in Western History and Biography
  • Contents

The mid-nineteenth-century gold rushes bring to mind raucous mining camps and slapped-together cities populated by carousing miners, gamblers, and prostitutes. Yet many of the white men who went to the gold fields were products of the Victorian era: educated men who valued morality and order. Examining the closely linked gold rushes in California and British Columbia, historian Christopher Herbert shows that these men worried about the meaning of their manhood in the near-anarchic, ethnically mixed societies that grew up around the mines. As white gold rushers emigrated west, they encountered a wide range of people they considered inferior and potentially dangerous to white dominance, including Latin American, Chinese, and Indigenous peoples.

The way that white miners interacted with these groups reflected their conceptions of race and morality, as well as the distinct political principles and strategies of the US and British colonial governments. The white miners were accustomed to white male domination, and their anxiety to continue it played a central role in the construction of colonial regimes. In addition to renovating traditional understandings of the Pacific Slope gold rushes, Herbert argues that historians' understanding of white manliness has been too fixated on the eastern United States and Britain. In the nineteenth century, popular attention largely focused on the West. It was in the gold fields and the cities they spawned that new ideas of white manliness emerged, prefiguring transformations elsewhere.
Christopher Herbert is associate professor of history at Columbia Basin College.

"This book adds a new level of sophisticated understanding to the gold rushes as well as the history of race and masculinity in the West. The stories about race in British Columbia are especially compelling and insightful."
-Kathryn Morse, author of The Nature of Gold: An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush

"Vivid and lively, Gold Rush Manliness portrays the California and British Columbia gold rushes as contested, global events that tested and transformed emigrants and natives alike. This is Western History at its very best."
-Joshua Paddison, author of American Heathens: Religion, Race, and Reconstruction in California

"Gold Rush Manliness revives and transforms the field of gender history in the nineteenth-century North American West. By recasting western gold rushes as important moments in the expansion of settler colonialism, Christopher Herbert constructs a sharp new analysis of how American and British imperial projects remade, and unmade, the meanings of manhood and whiteness in this era."
-Stacey L. Smith, author of Freedom's Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction