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Analysis Paper

Analysis Jerry Stanley has said that he only chooses to write about subjects that move him emotionally (Kerper, 2002), and that is evident in his writing. He honed his skills for teaching history to others as a professor, and he now transfers those skills onto the pages of his books. Throughout his writing, the reader senses his passion for his subject through his extensive research, attention to detail, and his focus on presenting all sides of an issue.

One recurring aspect of Stanley's style is his use of a single character to tell both the story of an individual and a slice of history. In his interview for an article for Something About the Author, Stanley discussed his first book, Children of the Dustbowl. He commented on this technique by stating, "I wanted to write about the little story within the big one." (Peacock, 2002) This format worked well for Stanley. Most of his subsequent books followed the same themes. Big Annie of Calumet tells the stories of Annie Clemenc and also the Industrial Revolution. I am an American used memoirs of and interviews with Shi Nomura to paint the picture for readers of what life was like in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Frontier Merchants told the little known story of Lionel and Barron Jacobs and their pioneering spirit. Through using Barron's diaries and letters home, Stanley is also able to reveal what it was really like in the pioneering days in the Old West. Many of Stanley's books follow the same pattern in telling "the little story within the big one." Stanley often begins the book by giving the reader just enough information about the book's main character (little story) to whet the interest. Stanley then gives a brief historical lesson that tells of surrounding events and puts the main character in context. Next, the action begins in earnest as Stanley moves back and forth between the two stories. Stanley spoke of this challenge in an interview with Richard Kerper. Kerper's question was, "What do you find most challenging in writing collective biography?" Stanley responded, "Integrating the little story with the big story while keeping the drama flowing is the toughest part of collective biography. For everything that I write, there is a big story like the Industrial Revolution in Big Annie of Calumet or Jews in the West in Frontier Merchants of slavery in Hurry Freedom, but there is a little story, too. With Hurry Freedom, it was difficult to say: This is what's happening in the state legislature; and this is what is occurring with Gibbs and the movement for the right of testimony in the state courts. It is a challenge to balance the three or four core elements in a story in a way that's not trite." (Kerper, 2002) Each book finishes with concluding chapters that tell what happened to the main character in later life and also the resolution of the social issue involved.

Another commonality among Stanley's chosen subjects is that they are each in some way a minority in American society who faced a challenge. He seems to put a new twist on many of these stories by researching minorities in situations for which they are not well known in history books. For example, in Cowboys and Longhorns, Stanley states "In 1866, most of the cowboys were vaqueros and African Americans. Vaqueros were hired because they had experience with cattle, and some African Americans had worked on ranches in Texas and could ride and rope. Only about a third of the cowboys in 1866 were Anglo, and they followed the lead of the vaqueros and African Americans." (Stanley, 2003, p.10) Another example is the story of Hurry Freedom, which discusses the struggles and triumphs of African Americans in the gold rush.

Stanley is also not afraid to tell the stories of people whose efforts resulted in small victories but big losses. Once again, in Hurry Freedom, Mifflin Gibbs eventually moves to Canada after fighting unsuccessfully for the rights of African Americans to testify in court. The strike led by Annie Clemenc in Big Annie of Calumet resulted in a horrible tragedy in which many lives were lost. Many strikers lost their will to fight after that. The strike ended with just a few of the workers' demands being met. Stanley's strength is his ability to put these small victories in context in concluding chapters that tell the rest of the story, and show how the efforts of the main character fit into the bigger picture.

Stanley's unpretentious narrative style is another strength of his texts. Without being overly conversational, Stanley presents the facts in a straightforward manner backed up by research and statistics that support his claims. He is not overly dramatic, but is also not afraid to convey the emotions of the characters when they can be backed up by research. When several of his books are examined side by side, it becomes clear that his books that were written with the benefit of personal interviews or journals delve much more into the emotional side of the characters. For I am an American, Stanley was able to draw from both memoirs and interviews he had conducted with Shi Nomura, as well as other friends from his time in internment, such as his girlfriend, Amy. This allowed Stanley to add many more personal details to the text, such as "He tried to renew his relationship with Amy, but as the days passed, it became clear that she had other boyfriends. After three months he confronted her and there were two versions of what happened. Said Shi: 'I told her I loved her and I proposed marriage, but she was having too much fun playing the field and she said no. With tears in my eyes, I threw the ring in the desert and told her good-bye.' 'The timing was all wrong,' Amy said. 'We didn't know what was going to happen to our lives. I really felt bad, and I'm sorry I hurt him, but the timing was all wrong.'" (Stanley, 1994, 72) Although such details might not be integral to telling the story of Japanese internment, they deepen the text and show the reader in first person the effects of internment on the people who lived it. Stanley is consistent throughout his body of work in his research style. Each subject is overresearched, and the richness of the narratives show this. In an interview with Teri Lesesne for Emergency Librarian, Stanley discussed his research techniques by stating, "The most important thing about research is not to let it get in the way of telling the story. I get a feeling for the story in my mind and heart by absorbing information which isn't always on my cards. Before I begin a new chapter, I will skim the notes that I think are relevant and then put the notes away and let the story flow naturally as I know it. There is always time later on to go back and get the exact date or quotation. The key is not to let any specific research 'fact' disrupt the telling. In other words, do the research, shut your eyes and relate what you see." (Lesesne, 1997)

The physical format of Stanley's books are very similar. Each is approximately one hundred pages, and typed in a medium to large size serif font. The lines of text are spaced further than in most book layouts and give the text a very readable quality. Each of Stanley's books includes a bibliography and an index. One standout aspect of Stanley's books is his use of pictures to enhance his story. Pictures of the main subject of the book are included, and also pictures from the times being discussed in the "big picture." Once again, for books in which Stanley was able to gain access to interviews with his subjects, the photos used are often even more personal. Shi Nomura (I am an American) and Leo Hart (Children of the Dustbowl) both allowed Stanley to use photos from their personal collections, and it is a thrill for readers to see actual pictures of the events being discussed.

Readers have much to look forward to, since Jerry Stanley is now retired from California State University and is devoting all his time to writing, and his other passion, fishing. His upcoming books include the story of a young blacksmith from England who was captured and held in captivity by native Americans, and also the story of teachers in the 19th century. (Kerper, 2002) Stanley's books lend themselves to being used in the classroom as a way to put a face on history, and his works should continue to enrich the lives of both teachers and students.

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Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University