Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in THE NEBRASKA ANTHROPOLOGIST, Volume 26 (2011). Published by the Anthropology Student Group, Department of Anthropology, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska 68588. Copyright © 2011 University of Nebraska-Lincoln's AnthroGroup.


The Rectangular Land Survey, which covers 69 percent of the Unites States continuously, was a system of federal land management that began in 1785 and continued into the early twentieth century. Straight, gridded patterns were stretched across the country in an attempt to make the consolidation and distribution of land by the United States government quick and easy. Using the Dominant Ideology Thesis, developed by Louis Althusser, and applied to landscape archaeology by Mark Leone, the rectangular land survey can be seen as an attempt by the government of the United States to control the lives of their citizens through the use of these straight lines. Whole communities were planned in grids, with each person on their own, isolated piece of land, serving to free up crowded cities but keeping the rural population separated and obedient. The survey was also used to dissolve title of lands held by Native American groups and to carve out reservation allotments that they would soon be expected to live their new, Americanized lives upon. This interpretation provides a unique and interesting take on an often forgotten or overlooked part of American history.