I was recently asked by a self-proclaimed “history buff” if I could recommend up to three books which would embody “a very comprehensive overview history of your state” without being “overly scholarly.” It was for a personal reading project and I could hardly hold my excitement to oblige their request.
For the last three-quarters of a century, Ohio has been blessed with historians from three subsequent generations who have produced fine histories of the state which meet the criteria set out by this request. This wasn’t always so. Professor Elbert J. Benton of Western Reserve University wrote in the American Historical Review in 1926 on “the monumental evidence of the backwardness of Ohioans in writing their own state’s history.”
The three books I chose for the patron were all written by highly recognized and noted academic historians. Eugene H. Roseboom (1892-1984) was Professor of History at Ohio State University and author of A Short History of Presidential Elections (1957). George W. Knepper (1926-) is the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at The University of Akron and author of many books relating to his native Akron and Summit County. Andrew R. L. Cayton (1954-) is the Distinguished Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and author of numerous historical books focusing on eighteenth and early 19th century Ohio and frontier America.
Eugene Roseboom calls his A History of Ohio the Sesquicentennial History of Ohio as it was published in 1953 when the state was 150 years old. While it leans more towards a textbook in its organization, it is substantive enough but not overly scholarly. It was last updated in 1967 which dates it a bit. But it is filled with copious photographs and illustrations which aid the novice in visualizing the text.
George W. Knepper’s Ohio and its People is considered the first scholarly history of the state since Carl Wittke’s six-volume History of the State of Ohio (1941-44). While not compromising the history of early Ohio for the present day, Dr. Knepper presents us with an up-to-date history taking us to “Ohio in the Post-Industrial Age.” It was published and republished in 1989 and 2003 during the bicentennials of the Northwest Territory and the state of Ohio, respectively.
Andrew R. L. Cayton’s Ohio: The History of a People (2002) is Ohio’s bicentennial tribute to its past. Dr. Cayton weaves original sources to tell the story of famous and not-so-famous Ohioans to tell the state’s story spanning three centuries. It reads like a novel but every fact is footnoted like an academic work.
So if you are looking to understand the breath of Ohio’s past, I would recommend all three of these books. The Knepper and Cayton books are still available from Kent State University and Ohio State University Presses, respectively. All three are also available from most of your local Ohio public libraries.