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Masculinities in American Western Films

A Hyper-Linear History

Emma Hamilton

The «Western» embodies many of the stereotypes of masculinity: rugged, independent men in cowboy hats roam the barren landscapes of the American West, resolving conflicts with guns and tough talk. Where did these cowboys come from? What historical trends led to their emergence on screen?

This book explores the relationship between the Western, film and historical representation and the ways in which masculine gender performance is itself historical. It posits a new interpretation of how history functions on film, termed hyper-linear history. Hyper-linear history creates the possibility of seeing film as a vehicle that makes the past immediately explicit and relevant, rendering historical understandings complex.

The study offers a fresh exploration of American Western films made in the 1950s and 1960s, arguing that many Westerns of this period rely on the post-Civil War on-screen past to make sense of the tumultuous experiences of the period, to various effect. The films especially tap into the ways in which national economic, political, technological and social changes impact the performance of hegemonic masculinities. These films provide insight into the ways in which masculinities are performed and gender crises are expressed, explored and resolved.

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Chapter 1 Gender, History and the West


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Gender, History and the West

Within the proliferation of ‘screen’ cultures of all types, film continues its rise as an important method by which students, and the broader public, engage with the historical past, yet it is a site of contestation amongst professional historians who remain concerned about the methodological foundations of using such a medium to inform our understandings of the past. The foundational proposal of this book is that film profoundly informs social understandings of the past in ways that are incredibly complex. Films do not simply reflect our present but construct a hyper-linear relationship that equally informs our understandings of both the past and the present. Specifically, the Western film and, potentially, historical films more broadly, construct a hyper-linear relationship with the past that does not simply reflect the concerns of the present nor attempts to accurately represent the past but, rather, constructs a fluid relationship between the two that privileges both temporal localities and sees each as mutually informing and constitutive. This is a distinct theoretical model in the field of history on film. Hyper-linear connections are illustrated throughout this volume via a consideration of the represented post-Civil War period given life in the Western film genre, circa 1870 to 1900, and the release period of the 1950s and 1960s. They are examined with a particular view to exploring the elements seen as fracturing and ultimately demasculinizing men’s personal and patriarchal national identities in both periods.

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