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Go East, Young Man

Imagining the American West as the Orient

Richard Francaviglia

Publication Year: 2011

Transference of Oriental images and identities to the American landscape and its inhabitants, especially in the West—in other words, portrayal of the West as the "Orient"—has been a common aspect of American cultural history. Place names offer notable examples—think of the Jordan River or Pyramid Lake—but the imagery and its varied meanings are more widespread and significant. Understanding that range and significance, especially to the western part of the continent, means coming to terms with the complicated, nuanced ideas of the Orient and of the North American continent that European Americans brought to the West. Such complexity is what historical geographer Richard Francaviglia unravels in this book.

Published by: Utah State University Press

Title Page

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pp. ix-x

The American West may seem like familiar territory, but it is really a land of paradoxes, one of which is the subject of this book. Beyond the stereotypes of cowboys and Indians, modern cities and ghost towns, lies another set of images of a West that is not Western at all but has its origins in Asia and the Middle East. The paradoxical idea that the West can be East—that is, have...

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Introduction: The Malleable Landscape

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pp. 1-22

In October of 2004, Israeli geographer Rehav “Buni” Rubin and I were intently discussing the landscape of the Holy Land as we drove north from the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley. Rubin, who has extensive knowledge of the Middle East, pointed out various irrigation projects and talked about the settlements we passed as if they were personal friends he had watched growing...

I. The Frontier West as the Orient (ca. 1810–1920)

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1. The American Zahara: Into and Beyond the Great Western Plains

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pp. 25-63

The initial Anglo-American move westward occurred during a time when two ways of viewing the world—either through the ancient authority of the classics or a newer, more personally based romanticism—were prevalent, and sometimes in conflict. For several centuries in Europe, the classical world had been plumbed for its authority and aesthetics. By about...

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2. In Praise of Pyramids: Orientalizing the Western Interior

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pp. 64-86

In 1776, an exploring expedition headed by Spanish friars Francisco Atanasio Dom

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3. Chosen People, Chosen Land: Utah as the Holy Land

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pp. 87-125

To appreciate the power of Orient-inspired religion in John Charles Frémont’s time, consider yet another part of the interior West—the eastern edge of the Great Basin, where the Great Salt Lake forms one of the West’s most prominent landmarks. In the early 1840s, the entire Great Basin was the home of Native Americans, and no whites lived there. At exactly this...

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4. Finding New Eden: The American Southwest

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pp. 126-154

The earliest part of western North America to be Orientalized was what Anglo-Americans now call the Southwest and Mexicans call “el norte.” However, it was the Spaniards, not the Anglo-Americans, who deserve credit as the first Orientalizers of the region. We must go back in time nearly five centuries to see how this occurred. The Orientalization of the entire...

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5. The Far East in the Far West: Chinese and Japanese California

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pp. 155-175

The discovery of gold in the winter of 1848, followed by official confirmation of the gold strikes a few months later, bound California to Asia as surely as it bound it to the rest of the United States. In California, the real Orient, in the form of Chinese immigrants, was destined to meet the fantasized visions of the Orient carried westward...

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6. Syria on the Pacific: California as the Near/Middle East

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pp. 176-201

In addition to developing an Asian identity in the nineteenth century, California also became closely associated with the Near East in the popular mind. To Anglo-Americans who first encountered Mexican California in the 1830s and 1840s, the place seemed to be paradise, especially when they looked at their calendars and realized that balmy days could occur...

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7. To Ancient East by Ocean United: The Pacific Northwest as Asia

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pp. 202-220

By the late 1870s, when Choir’s Guide Book to the Pacific Northwest was published, the Chinese presence was palpable throughout this large region lying north of California and south of Canada. Choir’s took the opinion that Chinese people per se were not to blame. They were, after all, victims of age old oppression. As the writer of the guidebook asked...

II. The Modern West as the Orient (ca. 1920–2010)

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8. Lands of Enchantment: The Modern West as the Near/Middle East

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pp. 223-256

In the previous chapters, I demonstrated that portions of the American West were Orientalized in various ways and for various reasons during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most of this Orientalization was a result of travelers and would-be settlers coming to grips with the overwhelming geography here, a process that called for analogies...

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9. Another Place, Another Time: The Modern West as the Far East

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pp. 257-287

In the Far West from California into the Pacific Northwest, the Far East has remained a major theme throughout the twentieth century. China and Japan, in particular, are the major areas of Asia represented, but other Asians are increasingly becoming part of the region’s identity. California was a leader in perpetuating an Asian character for the West, and it developed...

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10. Full Circle: Imagining the Orient as the American West

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pp. 288-307

As historian David Wrobel recently noted, what we know as the West today was not really the West at all throughout much of the nineteenth century. Instead, it was widely perceived “as a global West, as one developing frontier, one colonial enterprise, among many around the globe.”¹ In this conclusion I would like to portray the Orientalized American West as a fragment...


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pp. 308-328


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pp. 329-342


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pp. 343-350

E-ISBN-13: 9780874218114
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874218091

Page Count: 310
Illustrations: 83 photos and maps
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1st Edition