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Hell of a Vision

Regionalism and the Modern American West

Robert L. Dorman

Publication Year: 2012

The American West has taken on a rich and evocative array of regional identities since the late nineteenth century. Wilderness wonderland, Hispanic borderland, homesteader’s frontier, cattle kingdom, urban dynamo, Native American homeland. Hell of a Vision explores the evolution of these diverse identities during the twentieth century, revealing how Western regionalism has been defined by generations of people seeking to understand the West’s vast landscapes and varied cultures.

Focusing on the American West from the 1890s up to the present, Dorman provides us with a wide-ranging view of the impact of regionalist ideas in pop culture and diverse fields such as geography, land-use planning, anthropology, journalism, and environmental policy-making.

Going well beyond the realm of literature, Dorman broadens the discussion by examining a unique mix of texts. He looks at major novelists such as Cather, Steinbeck, and Stegner, as well as leading Native American writers. But he also analyzes a variety of nonliterary sources in his book, such as government reports, planning documents, and environmental impact studies.

Hell of a Vision is a compelling journey through the modern history of the American West—a key region in the nation of regions known as the United States.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Series: The Modern American West

title page

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Regionalism has been an important part of my mental landscape since I moved back East to attend graduate school over twenty-five years ago. I first discovered it as a concept at Brown University under the mentorship of the late John L. Thomas, to whom this book is dedicated. ...

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Introduction: The Regionalist Gaze

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pp. 1-16

After two failed attempts, John Wesley Powell and his men at last reached the top of Longs Peak on the morning of August 23, 1868. “Glory to God!” Powell exulted as he took in the view, and the men of the expedition gave three cheers. For hours they wandered the summit, a flat six acres of rock mostly barren of snow and life. ...

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1. Back-Trailing

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pp. 17-43

In 1878, John Wesley Powell had noted that farming on the Great Plains was an iffy proposition at best, but heedless of his data, home-seekers by the hundreds of thousands poured into the Plains states and territories during the next two decades. This Plains land boom prompted the Census Office to announce the disappearance of the frontier line in 1890. ...

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2. Walking

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pp. 44-75

Charles Lummis had to walk 3,507 miles to begin to see beyond the frontier myth. The distance between his starting point in Ohio and his destination in California was actually much shorter, but the route he took during that fall of 1884 was, appropriately, far from linear. ...

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3. Roll On, Columbia (Valley Authority)

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pp. 76-103

Caroline Henderson’s farmhouse in Texas County, Oklahoma, sat close to ground zero of the Dust Bowl. From there she surveyed the American Dream in a series of nationally published letters during the mid-1930s. Henderson was the very type of the hardy pioneer stock rhapsodized over by frontier apologists. ...

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4. Super-America

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pp. 104-134

“No, the West of song and story, the West of fable and myth, the West of the colorful books and neon-promotion brochures, as well as the western ‘society’ of Frederick Jackson Turner, is gone,” wrote Ladd Haystead, who covered the region for Fortune magazine, in 1945. “It started to wither in the Dust Bowl days. ...

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5. Quiet Revolution, Angry West

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pp. 135-165

“It is quite possible that loss of meaning is the problem of our time,” social scientist Raymond Gastil wrote at the conclusion of his 1975 book, Cultural Regions of the United States. “But if so, what do we do about it?” This “crisis of meaning” was not a new one, he noted, recalling that the 1920s had first witnessed the modernist “failure” of cultural coherence. ...

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6. Hell of a Vision

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pp. 166-194

In 1990, the nation was treated to a spectacle unique in the history of American regionalism: the “Buffalo Commons” road show, starring Frank and Deborah Popper. The two Rutgers University professors were touring the Plains states—sometimes in the company of network TV news crews, sometimes with police escorts ...

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Conclusion: Hope

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pp. 195-202

The solitary square mile of southeastern Wyoming that the writer Annie Proulx purchased for her dream home in 2003 brings to focus many of the enduring themes of modern western regionalism. As described in Proulx’s 2011 memoir, Bird Cloud, the 640 acres straddling the North Platte River had a past and a present layered in the multiple regional identities of the West. ...


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pp. 203-216


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pp. 217-238


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pp. 239-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599431
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816528509

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The Modern American West