Jeff Bremer: A New History of Iowa

A New History of Iowa is the first comprehensive survey of the state since 1996.  It is the result of nine years of research and uses hundreds of new sources to tell the state’s story.

  • What was the intellectual significance of your project? How did your work advance and/or expand the scholarly community’s already-existing knowledge of your project’s subject matter?
    "This narrative surveys Iowa history from the last ice age to the end of 2020, adding new stories and themes to broaden and diversify the state’s history. Issues such as the environment, immigration, and racial justice are given new attention. While this is often a history of Iowa’s white majority, it is also a history of Native people, African Americans, Latinas and Latinos, Asian Americans, the LGBTQ community, and Iowa’s other ethnic and religious groups. Many of their stories were not part of Iowa’s previous histories. A New History of Iowa is often the story of rural areas and agriculture, topics that are emphasized throughout the book. It reviews topics from the rural free delivery of mail and wind energy to state constitutions, one-room schools, and the struggle for female suffrage. Many familiar topics and people appear—such as the Black Hawk War, the Amana colonies, Annie Wittenmyer, the Cow War, and the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. A New History of Iowa also includes less well-known topics, such as the Anti-Monopoly Party, Meskwaki code talkers, Iowa’s CCC camps, Des Moines’ branch of the Black Panther Party, and nineteenth-century Chinese immigration."
  • What would you say was the most surprising, unexpected, or enlightening result of your work?
    "A New History of Iowa is a narrative full of individuals whose life histories help tell the story of the state—many of which I did not know and are quite surprising. It is the story of Samuel H.M. Byers, a volunteer in Iowa’s Fifth Infantry Regiment who escaped from three Confederate POW camps during the Civil War. It is also the story of Judith Ellen Foster, a lawyer who was such an effective antiliquor lecturer that opponents burned down her house to try to intimidate her. It is the story of George Duffield, whose diary of a cattle drive from Texas to Missouri inspired the television series Rawhide, which starred a young Clint Eastwood. It is also the story of James B. Morris, a Black lawyer and World War One veteran who confronted the Klan with a shotgun when they demanded that he stop publishing the state’s most important African American newspaper. He published it for decades after chasing off the KKK."
  • What role did the CEAH Research Grant play in advancing and/or supporting your career trajectory?
    "The CEAH grant that I received in 2021 helped me complete the book, which supported weeks of archival research in 2021 and 2022. This was crucial to finishing the project. A New History of Iowa will probably be the most important book that I publish during my career."

"Finishing this book led me to my next project, Des Moines: A Concise History. While working on A New History of Iowa I found that there was no good history of the city of Des Moines. When I found out that Indiana University Press had a new book series aimed at a broad, non-academic audience (“Heartland History”), and that they were looking for histories of Midwestern cities, I wrote a chapter on Des Moines and sent in a book proposal. In September 2023 I received a book contract and promised to deliver Des Moines: A Concise History by 2027. I will be applying for a CEAH grant for this new book."


The state of Iowa is largely unappreciated and often misunderstood. It has a small population and sits in the middle of a huge country. It’s thought of as an uninspiring place full of farms and fields of corn. But Iowa represents America as surely as New York and California, and Iowa’s history is more dynamic, complicated, and influential than commonly imagined.

Jeff Bremer’s A New History of Iowa offers the most comprehensive history of the Hawkeye State ever written, surveying Iowa from the last ice age through the COVID-19 pandemic. It tells a new and vibrant story, examining the state’s small-town culture, politics, social and economic development, and its many diverse inhabitants. Bremer features well-known individuals, such as Sauk leader Black Hawk, artist Grant Wood, botanist George Washington Carver, suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, and President Herbert Hoover. But Bremer broadens the state’s story by including new voices—among them, runaway enslaved men who joined Iowa’s 60th Colored Regiment in the Civil War, young female pearl button factory workers, Latino railroad workers who migrated to the state in the early twentieth century, and recent refugees from Southeast Asia and the Balkans.

This new story of Iowa provides a brisk, readable narrative written for a broad audience, from high school and college students to teachers and scholars to general readers. It tells the story of ordinary and extraordinary people of all backgrounds and greatly improves our knowledge of a state whose history has been neglected. A New History of Iowais for everyone who wants to learn about Iowa’s surprising, complex, and remarkable past.