The Measurement That Built America

The little-appreciated U.S. public-land survey not only opened up our frontier but made possible our freedoms

LOOK OUT THE AIRPLANE WINDOW ON A flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, and you can see below one of the most astonishing man-made constructs on earth. It is more extensive than the Great Wall of China, yet it remains almost invisible unless you’re looking for it.

 
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A Tent On The Porch

First heard just a century ago at the Chicago fair, Frederick Jackson Turner’s epochal essay on the Western frontier expressed a conflict in the American psyche that tears at us still

This country’s long, acrimonious observance of the Columbian quincentenary is finally over, but it won’t be soon forgotten. during it, the much-abused figure of Christopher Columbus seemed to offer an irresistible target at which all sorts of present-minded concerns could be hurled. His case should remind us of how forcefully the shifting needs of the present affect our visions of the past, just as when a moving automobile changes direction, it transforms the vista in its rearview mirror.Read more »

Indians In The Land

Did the Indians have a special, almost noble, affinity with the American environment—or were they despoilers of it? Two historians of the environment explain the profound clash of cultures between Indians and whites that has made each group almost incomprehensible to the other.

When the historian Richard White wrote his first scholarly article about Indian environmental history in the mid-1970s, he knew he was taking a new approach to an old field, but he did not realize just how new it was. “I sent it to a historical journal,” he reports, “and I never realized the U.S. mail could move so fast. It was back in three days. The editor told me it wasn’t history.” Read more »