Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 6:3 (Summer 1986). Copyright © 1986 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


I have undertaken a highly selective Cook's Tour in this article, attempting to integrate our understanding of semiarid lands around the globe. The focus is concentrated on the period between the two great wars when new nationalisms, old imperial networks, and the burgeoning ambitions of scientists combined to create new systems of land use in the semiarid regions, but a few sorties have been made into earlier and later periods to assist the interpretation of specific projects. My own country, Australia, is used as the starting point for the tour, but the influence of American Donald Worster's Dust Bowl (1979) will be easily discerned. I have argued that the environmental and economic crises around the world in the interwar years were to some extent culturally induced and that they were linked by similar assumptions, crossing cultural and economic lines, about the potential and rationale for settlement in semiarid lands. Heavy investment in science and technology, multiple ways to manage risk and indebtedness, and expansions of the scale of Westernstyle capitalistic farming in semiarid areas were typical of capitalist economies, but consideration is also given to developments in semiarid regions characterized by communist and mixed economies.