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Potomac Books


Sight Unseen, Sight Unseen, 080323807X, 0-8032-3807-X, 978-0-8032-3807-7, 9780803238077, Andrew Menard, , Sight Unseen, 0803246218, 0-8032-4621-8, 978-0-8032-4621-8, 9780803246218, Andrew Menard

Sight Unseen
How Frémont's First Expedition Changed the American Landscape
Andrew Menard

2012. 288 pp.
1 photograph, 23 illustrations, 4 maps
$29.95 t

John C. Frémont was the most celebrated explorer of his era. In 1842, on the first of five expeditions he would lead to the Far West, Frémont and a small party of men journeyed up the Kansas and Platte Rivers to the Wind River Range in Wyoming. At the time, virtually this entire region was known as the Great Desert, and many Americans viewed it and the Rocky Mountains beyond as natural barriers to the United States. After Congress published Frémont’s official report of the expedition, however, few doubted the nation should expand to the Pacific.
The first in-depth study of this remarkable report, Sight Unseen argues that Frémont used both a radical form of the picturesque and an imaginary map to create an aesthetic craving for expansion. Not only did he redefine the Great Desert as a novel and complex environment, but on a summit of the Wind River Range he envisioned the Continental Divide as a feature that would unify rather than obstruct a larger nation.
In addition to provoking the great migration to Oregon and providing an aesthetic justification for the national park system, Frémont’s report profoundly altered American views of geography, progress, and the need for a transcontinental railroad. By helping to shape the very notion of Manifest Destiny, the report became one of the most important documents in the history of American landscape.

Andrew Menard is an independent writer, artist, and critic. His work has appeared in publications such as Artforum, The Fox, Art-Language, Studio International, Western American Literature, Journal of American Studies, and The New England Quarterly.

“Eloquent, lively, and learned, with an intellectual breadth as wide as a Rocky Mountains horizon, Andrew Menard’s Sight Unseen ably reconnoiters geographies of both imagination and terra firma. This fascinating book recovers the American West as John Frémont found it and shows us how the explorer taught us to see American landscapes—and America itself—anew.”—Tom Chaffin, author of Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire

"[Sight Unseen is] a well-written work revealing an essential part of the history of the North American continent."—G.J. Martin, Choice

"Sight Unseen is a rigorously researched, exceptionally astute, and well-reasoned interdisciplinary study of a report that defined America's emerging ideology of progress. It is a splendid contribution to the historiography of both Frémont and nineteenth-Century America."Fred MacVaugh, Nebraska History

"Crisply written, deliciously illustrated."—Ryan Boyd, Great Plains Quarterly

"Through the imaginative eyes of Frémont, Menard makes significant strides in linking the words of the explorer and naturalist to the cultural concept that would shape the future land use and settlement of the American West."—Camden Burd, Historical Geography

"Anyone interested in how Americans transformed western lands from obstacles into symbols of national achievement will find much of value in Menard's work."—Jared Orsi, Kansas History

Also of Interest

Frémont's First Impressions
John C. Frémont

Allan Nevins

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West
Solomon Nunes Carvalho

Passion and Principle
Sally Denton