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The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum presented its Western Heritage Award for Best Magazine Article to Renee Laegreid, a professor in the University of Wyoming Department of History.
The award recognizes her nonfiction article, "Finding the West in Twentieth-Century Italy," published by the Western Historical Quarterly. Located in Oklahoma City, the museum gives awards for multiple categories, including film and television, music and literary endeavors.
Laegreid tells how, beginning in the late 19th century with William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and later promoted by Theodore Roosevelt, Owen Wister and Frederick Remington, the cowboy emerged on the national scene as a mirror for the United States, reflecting national values, goals and attitudes among Americans and toward other nations.
However, not much has been written about the influence of the American cowboy in Italy, which had its own cattle drive traditions, also used in the late 19th century to promote a sense of national cohesion and identity. She traces Italy’s cowboy image to Cody’s Wild West show that drew enormous crowds during six performances in Italy during the 1890s.
“Cody was such a great marketer, and he heavily advertised his shows, creating a lot of interest. The spectators began to associate Buffalo Bill with the American West,” Laegreid says. “That interest in the West never went away.”
She says Cody wanted to educate people about the American West, which he feared was ending forever. So, he brought Indian chiefs and an assortment of Wild West characters to Europe.
“For him, it was an interpretation of the wild West. A popular part of the show was the annex, where Indians lived in teepees,” she says. “The spectators could mingle with them, and could get a sense of how the West was lived.”
One legacy of Cody’s shows, Laegreid says, is that Italians have adopted Western myths to accommodate their cultural, political and economic circumstance, keeping the American West relevant to them in the 21st century.
Laegreid specializes in the history of the American West, with a focus on gender and culture in the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. Her current research projects involve cultural and social analysis of Western iconography, examining how symbols of the West have been created and shaped over time, and across international boundaries.
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum preserves and interprets the evolving history and cultures of the American West for the education and enrichment of its diverse audiences of adults and children. Laegreid and the winners in other categories will be honored at a ceremony April 15-16 in Oklahoma City.