When Dennis Domer retired a few years ago as a professor of architecture at the University of Kansas, he knew he couldn’t just use his newfound free time to go fishing. Instead, he decided to embark on a much bigger project: compiling a major new history of Lawrence.
The much-anticipated second volume of “Embattled Lawrence,” a book series focusing on Lawrence’s rich legacy, was published Wednesday and is available at the downtown Raven Book Store and Watkins Museum of History for $39.95 — more than 20 years after the first volume of the series was released.
And more books are in the works. The newest edition, “Embattled Lawrence: The Enduring Struggle for Freedom,” is the second of four planned installments, compiled and edited by Domer with contributions from a wide range of Lawrence historians and scholars. The series is the only major summary of the history of Lawrence published in the past three decades.
“I decided that we would deal with one of the most continuous themes in Lawrence history,” Domer said, “which is the struggle for freedom.”
Topics such as abolition and Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence in 1863 have been well documented. Domer wanted to focus on other, overlooked parts of Lawrence history and the local fight for freedom and equality.
“I’m interested in focusing on new topics that had been overlooked because there wasn’t enough oxygen for them to be covered, because the focus was so much on early Lawrence,” he said.
The new book includes chapters on local anti-slavery efforts, community governance and more pillars of Lawrence’s history. Domer said the book includes insight into multiple Lawrence institutions that previously haven’t been deeply explored.
One of these is Haskell Indian Nations University, the subject of six chapters of the book, whose cover features Haskell football players. “There’s a big section on Haskell Indian Nations University,” Domer said. “That’s never happened” before.
Danny Caine, part-owner of the Raven Book Store, said anticipation for the book has been building over the past few months, and the store is excited to start getting the collection of essays into readers’ hands.
“We have a lot of preorders for this, and a lot of folks have been waiting for a long time,” Caine said in an email. “… The people who have been most eagerly anticipating are us! This book has been such a Herculean effort for the editors, and they’re so committed to a well-crafted book object that the wait will surely be worth it.”
The first installment in the series, released in 2001, was titled “Embattled Lawrence: Conflict and Community.” It featured a collection of articles written by historians, civic leaders and community stakeholders. It is no longer in print, but it can be downloaded digitally.
Domer began work on the second volume in 2017 and is already making strides on the third and fourth editions.
The third volume of the series will feature more chapters on Lawrence’s history written by local experts. The fourth volume is set to be a compilation of photographs from the Spencer Research Library, the Watkins Museum of History, the Kansas Historical Society and private collections.
Caine said this type of Lawrence-focused book is the “bread and butter” of a local bookstore like Raven.
“We’re proud to carry books for Kansans that are only available here, and customers have long lived to support those books,” Caine said. “There’s a long history of books like that — from ‘Cows are Freaky When They Look at You,’ to ‘Ladybird Collected.’ We’re thrilled to have ‘Embattled Lawrence Vol. 2’ join that lineage.”
Domer calls himself a conductor of a project that spanned far beyond him. The compilation and publication of the book was funded by donations. The profit of the books sold go mostly to the Watkins Museum, which sponsored the project.
The model allows the project to not only be about the community, but infused with the community and benefiting the community at the same time.
“Lawrence is a very different city than most cities,” Domer said. “… You don’t have the kind of community involvement, politically and socially, in very many cities in Kansas, the way you find it in Lawrence … Every generation needs to make a contribution to that history. And I saw this as my opportunity to facilitate that contribution.”
“So many people in the national media get it so wrong about Kansas,” Caine said. “It’s a rich, complicated, interesting place. And the best people to tell that story the right way are right here in our community. Dennis and his team have done an amazing job gathering these stories and compiling them into a beautiful book.”
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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.