Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Winter 1983


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1983, pp. 3-4.


Copyright 1983 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


In March of 1982, the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sponsored the symposium Intersections: Studies in the Canadian and American Great Plains. This was the sixth in a series of annual Great Plains symposia, each focusing on a different aspect of the region. Intersections was also a direct response to the Crossing Frontiers conference on the literature and history of the Canadian and American Wests, held in Banff, Alberta, Canada, in 1978. The four essays in this Great Plains Quarterly represent a cross section of the twenty-nine papers in nine disciplines presented at Intersections.

The idea of Great Plains studies implies that there is a regional identity to the plains that can profitably be defined and discussed. We can test and explore the significance of this implication by asking what happens when this region, this geographically coherent area, is bisected by a national boundary, the forty-ninth parallel. How does regionalism interact with nationalism?

Previous comparisons between Canadian and American ideas of the West and of the nation, particularly those made at Crossing Frontiers, have established that different perceptions have governed the nations on either side of the fortyninth parallel. To generalize, the United States has favored self-reliance and self-determination. Americans have expected to conquer by violence, sanctified by natural law, both the land and any peoples who might oppose the archetypal American's vision of Manifest Destiny.

Americans have viewed their West as a crucible in which all cultures were to fuse into one new and undeniably American self. Canadians, on the other hand, have favored cooperation and duly appointed authority. The archetypal Canadian has regarded the land with awe, striving to endure rather than to conquer, and Canadian images tend to be of victims rather than of victors. Canadians, fighting to maintain a national identity separate from the potentially engulfing United States, have viewed their West as a mosaic rather than a melting pot. The writers of each of the essays in this number of the Quarterly have examined these national characteristics in terms of specific comparisons between the ways the people of the two nations have lived on the Great Plains.