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Sight Unseen

How Frémont's First Expedition Changed the American Landscape

Andrew Menard

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: Bison Books
Published: 09/2018
Pages: 288
Subject: History
eBook ISBN: 9781496207531


John C. Frémont was the most celebrated explorer of his era. In 1842, on the first of five expeditions he would lead to the Far West, Frémont and a small party of men journeyed up the Kansas and Platte Rivers to the Wind River Range in Wyoming. At the time, virtually this entire region was known as the Great Desert, and many Americans viewed it and the Rocky Mountains beyond as natural barriers to the United States. After Congress published Frémont's official report of the expedition, however, few doubted the nation should expand to the Pacific.         The first in-depth study of this remarkable report, Sight Unseen argues that Frémont used both a radical form of art and an imaginary map to create an aesthetic desire for expansion. He not only redefined the Great Desert as a novel and complex environment, but on a summit of the Wind River Range, he envisioned the Continental Divide as a feature that would unify rather than impede a larger nation.         In addition to provoking the great migration to Oregon and providing an aesthetic justification for the National Park system, Frémont's report profoundly altered American views of geography, progress, and the need for a transcontinental railroad. By helping to shape the very notion of Manifest Destiny, the report became one of the most important documents in the history of American landscape.  


Andrew Menard is an independent writer, artist, and critic. His work has appeared in the Georgia Review, Antioch Review, the New England Quarterly, Western American Literature, Journal of American Studies, and Oxford Art Journal. He is the author of Learning from Thoreau.  


"[A] sharp and canny synthesis. . . . Most impressive in Sight Unseen is the meticulous way Menard makes his case that his imaginative transformation was a textual one."—Robert Thacker, Western American Literature   

"Crisply written, deliciously illustrated."—Ryan Boyd, Great Plains Quarterly

"Sight Unseen is a rigorously researched, exceptionally astute, and well-reasoned interdisciplinary study of a report that defined America's emerging ideology of progress. It is a splendid contribution to the historiography of both Frémont and nineteenth-Century America."Fred MacVaugh, Nebraska History