Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in GREAT PLAINS QUARTERLY 25:3 (Summer 2005). Copyright © 2005 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


The American Great Plains has gained and shed various regional meanings since Euro-American exploration began. From a desert to a garden to a dust bowl to a breadbasket, this region's identity has shifted radically and dramatically over the last 200 years. In Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas, he argues that this Plains state can be understood as empty and bare: "The blank landscape prompted dreams of a blank-slate society, a place where institutes might be remade as humans saw fit." Authors such as Jonathan Raban have characterized the Great Plains as a whole in this manner. Raban has used the term tabula rasa to characterize the region. In the mid-1980s unusual things were happening on the Plains that suggested yet another period of radical shift in thinking. A new tabula rasa seemed to offer itself up as the region adjusted to a new set of political, economic, social, and environmental contexts.