Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly 33:3 (Summer 2013)
Sight Unseen, Andrew Menard’s crisply written, deliciously illustrated, deeply sourced, and somewhat repetitive new book, contends that America has always been both an imaginative space where aesthetics, politics, and culture mingle, and the congeries of material environments to which those discourses respond. The text’s central figure, Captain John C. Frémont, evidently thought the same, and this conviction fueled an optimism that was rare at the time. In retrospect, the Louisiana Purchase was a good deal. But in 1842, when Frémont set out to survey the area between eastern Kansas and southern Wyoming, much of the territory we now call the Great Plains was considered, in the words of an earlier explorer, a windstripped expanse of “hopeless and irreclaimable sterility” that would be difficult to absorb into the young republic.