Western Places, American Myths
How We Think About The West
Publication Year: 2003
Published by: University of Nevada Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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The provocation for an anthology on the American West by a group of geographers, launched with a little help from friends in art and history (each of whom, of course, is a closet geographer), originated in the classrooms of the University of Nevada, Reno, during a speaker series on Western...
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Western Places, American Myths is a body of essays bound by setting, its ligaments the American West. How fitting it is that a geographical region, no matter how loosely or ambiguously defined and understood, ties together a range of essays from across disciplines; the regional tradition is a most resilient...
Part 1 | Continuity and Change
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1 | Understanding Western Places The Historical Geographer’s View
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Historical geographers have long been wedded to the American West. Their wanderings have taken them to the Great Basin, Mormon country, the Southwest, varied California settings, and Montana’s Big Sky. As historical geographers, they have probed how places have changed over time and...
2 | An Inescapable Range,or the Ranch as Everywhere
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Imperfect though the human eye may be, it’s plain enough that what you see is what you get. Children learn early in life to trust their eyes, making sense of what they see. The human brain, hardwired to detect difference, welcomes a big picture, seizing upon the dissimilar. And so to recognize that ranch landscapes are everywhere, yet are almost undetectable, requires the...
3 | Land Tenure The Spatial Musculature of the American West
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The morphology of landscape is part accident, part assertion, and always contested. When conflicting visions of land ownership and use collide, invigorating stress becomes enraging strain, and the outcome is typically tabulated as winners and losers. However, in the American West this robustly...
4 | National Significance Representation of the West in the National Park System
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The national park system arose in the West. It began as an effort to preserve monumental scenery in an unfamiliar yet compelling landscape. Later the system diversified and evolved to include many types of historical, cultural, scientific, and recreational places. This diversification, plus the concomitant...
Part 2 | Enduring Regional Voices
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5 | Mormon WestsThe Creation and Evolution of an American Region
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Driving west from Denver or Cheyenne or north and west from Las Vegas, a traveler crosses an invisible line somewhere in the Rockies or the Great Basin that marks the boundary between the Mormon and non-Mormon West. Although not immediately obvious, a few more hours of travel will...
6 | Mex-America From Margin to Mainstream
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At my last Cinco de Mayo party I served chile verde, carne asada, and margaritas while listening to a Los Lobos CD, thus revealing myself as a Hispanicized Westerner. Hispanization is the process by which a person or place absorbs characteristics of Hispanic culture. Mexican American holidays...
7 | Native America The Indigenous West
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No group of Westerners has been the subject of as many myths, rumors, clich
8 | Narrating Imperial Adventure Isabella Bird’s Travels in the Nineteenth-Century American West
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Feminist historical geographies of the American West are just beginning to come into their own.1 Although Western women’s historians have been producing feminist scholarship about the region since the 1970s,2 only in the last decade or so have feminist historical geographers of the West begun...
Part 3 | The West as Visionary Place
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9 | The Return of the One-Armed BanditGambling and the West
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When the Western adventurer James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was shot dead at a poker table in Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1876, he became a legend. His death immortalized the combination of cards he was holding when the bullet hit him; the black pairs of aces and eights became known as...
10 | Magical Realism The West as Spiritual Playground
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I live in this place called the Great Basin. This “place” is a complex topographical basin, comprised mostly of Nevada, with added parts of Utah, Idaho, and eastern California, Wyoming, and Oregon. Death Valley is part of this enormous “basin,” as is the area of the interior drainage of the Great Salt Lake, the Mojave Desert, and the Carson Sink. Those of us who travel basin...
11 | “Good, by God, We’re Going to Bodie! ”Ghost Towns and the American West
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In the late 1870s, as legend has it, a young girl living in the California town of Truckee was told by her parents that the family would be moving to Bodie, then a booming mining camp with a growing bad reputation as a “‘sea of sin,’ lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.”1 Horrified at the...
12 | Where the Cowboy Rides Away Mythic Places for Western Film
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In 1903 The Great Train Robbery transported the Western from desert dust and printed page to crisp celluloid, where it would remain an important American film genre off and on for the next seven decades. It functioned as “fantasy-folklore,” reflecting “the attitudes and dreams of the West itself, and..
List of Contributors
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Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 58 b/w photos, 16 color photos, 20 maps
Publication Year: 2003