Global West, American Frontier
Travel, Empire, and Exceptionalism from Manifest Destiny to the Great Depression
Publication Year: 2013
This thoughtful examination of a century of travel writing about the American West overturns a variety of popular and academic stereotypes. Looking at both European and American travelers’ accounts of the West, from de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, David Wrobel offers a counter narrative to the nation’s romantic entanglement with its western past and suggests the importance of some long-overlooked authors, lively and perceptive witnesses to our history who deserve new attention.
Prior to the professionalization of academic disciplines, the reading public gained much of its knowledge about the world from travel writing. Travel writers found a wide and respectful audience for their reports on history, geography, and the natural world, in addition to reporting on aboriginal cultures before the advent of anthropology as a discipline. Although in recent decades western historians have paid little attention to travel writing, Wrobel demonstrates that this genre in fact offers an important and rich understanding of the American West—one that extends and complicates a simple reading of the West that promotes the notions of Manifest Destiny or American exceptionalism.
Wrobel finds counterpoints to the mythic West of the nineteenth century in such varied accounts as George Catlin’s Adventures of the Ojibbeway and Ioway Indians in England, France, and Belgium (1852), Richard Francis Burton’s The City of the Saints (1861), and Mark Twain’s Following the Equator (1897), reminders of the messy and contradictory world that people navigated in the past much as they do in the present. His book is a testament to the instructive ways in which the best travel writers have represented the West.
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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John White, a Fellow of Queen’s College Oxford, toured the United States and Canada in the late 1860s and, like so many nineteenth-century European visitors, wrote up his experiences and impressions; they were published in 1870 under the title Sketches from America. A remarkably cynical and irreverent account, White’s Sketches would have...
Part One THE GLOBAL WEST OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Chapter One EXCEPTIONALISM AND GLOBALISM
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Since the publication of Edward Said’s landmark study Orientalism (1978), cultural historians have typically viewed travel writers within the theoretical contours of the postcolonial framework Said helped construct.1 Travel writers have routinely been characterized as the architects...
Chapter Two THE WORLD IN THE WEST, THE WEST IN THE WORLD
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When measured against the writings of many other nineteenth-century global travelers, Friedrich Gerstäcker’s and George Catlin’s accounts seem rather enlightened in their empathy for indigenous peoples and outrage over their mistreatment. Clearly, not every ...
Part Two THE AMERICAN FRONTIER OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Chapter Three “NO, ADVENTURE IS NOT DEAD"
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Notions like the closing frontier—and with it the passing of the “real,” “authentic,” old, Wild West—the death of regionalism, the end of “real” travel, and the loss of uncharted space, are all connected. Twentieth-century travel writers, in searching for the last supposed remaining...
Chapter Four THE END OF THE WEST?
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As the twentieth century dawned and the automotive age began, the American transcontinental motor journey constituted a challenge and an adventure for drivers. Horatio Alger Nelson made the first successful trip across the continent, from San Francisco to New York City, with his mechanic, Sewall K. Crocker, in a Winton touring car in...
Chapter Five REDISCOVERING THE WEST
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In 1935, the same year the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) were established, newspaper columnist Ernie Pyle began crisscrossing America with his wife Jerry (“That Girl,” as he affectionately called her), taking the pulse of the nation and reporting...
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In 1937, Canadian writer Stephen Leacock declared: “All travel writing and travel pictures in books are worn out and belong to a past age. It is no longer possible to tell anyone anything new about anywhere.” 1 Two years later, Journey to a War, Christopher Isherwood’s and W. H. Auden’s...
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Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013