As is my habit, I sought a book for this review among my favorite shelves in the library — new nonfiction. I was especially delighted to find a recently published local history title included with the current offerings: “CAMP CROWDER” by JEREMY P. AMICK.
Amick’s title is part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, which shares local histories written by local authors throughout the United States. Curious, I ventured over to the catalog to look up which other of this series’ titles we have in our collection. In all, we have nine. For the purpose of this review, I chose Amick’s and an additional three: “Carthage, 1940-1990” by Wade Utter and Michele Hansford for the Powers Museum (2013, and two titles by Priscilla Purcell Brown, “Joplin” (2013) and “Webb City” (2015).
Given that these books are a part of a series, the layouts are similar. Each cover greets potential readers with a historic photograph; black and white images, including photographs, postcards and ephemera make up the bulk of each title, and each contains similar content and is about the same length.
Rather than lengthy texts that dig deep into the histories of these areas, each book is introduced by the author (other than the one about Carthage, which is introduced by the director of the Powers Museum), and each image is accompanied by a blurb, ranging from a few sentences to a paragraph in length.
As with format, the content of each book is similar. Format and content combined make these titles accessible and reader-friendly, particularly for those who are not familiar with local histories.
I started with Amick’s “Camp Crowder.” It differs in that it’s about one place within a community rather than a community at large (though one could easily argue that the camp was a community in and of itself). In addition to documenting the lifecycle of the Army camp, “Camp Crowder” touches on surrounding communities, such as Carthage and Joplin. Because of their close proximity, soldiers often visited neighboring communities for entertainment and night life, which spurred the organization of USO Clubs. Because of segregation, two USO Clubs were opened in Joplin. In Carthage, one USO Club was opened. (If Carthage did, in fact, also have a USO Club for black soldiers, it is not mentioned in either “Camp Crowder” or “Carthage, 1940-1990.”) The opening of these USO Clubs is indicative of the effect Camp Crowder had on the region.
After reading about the Army camp, I read the remaining three titles alongside one another. The shift from reading about the camp itself from Amick’s perspective to reading about the reception of the camp in outlying communities from others’ perspectives was interesting. I’m intrigued with this dynamic as well as how the histories of Carthage, Joplin and Webb City weave together to make up the fabric of a region, yet each developed into its own distinct city.
Brown’s “Joplin” and “Webb City” cover roughly the same time period, whereas Utter and Hansford’s “Carthage” comes in at a later date (because it’s the second Carthage book in the “Images of America” series, picking up where the first left off).
Collectively, these titles are accessible, reader-friendly visual surveys that introduce readers to the local histories of our area, beginning with the major mining strikes that lead to our development and ending in the postwar era (with Utter and Hansford’s “Carthage” being the exception).
Although these resources are informative and useful, they illustrate a need to dig deeper into the margins of our communities and the surrounding area for the stories of those yet to be heard.
As always, happy reading.
Jill Halbach Sullivan is the executive director of the Post Art Library inside the Joplin Public Library.