The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Reviews

In sum,. the author could well be right: there may, in fact, be "subtle but sig-
nificant differences between town and country racial mentalities" (p. 220); ur-
banization may be somehow inherently liberalizing; a pale but promising flame
of urban black progress and interracial harmony may well have been extin-
guished by the cold winds of rural reaction. But he has not adequately argued
his case here, much less proved it.
University of Southern Mississippi NEIL R. McMILLEN
An American Viszon: Fay Western Landscape and Natzonal Culture, 1820-192o. By
Anne Farrar Hyde. (New York: New York University Press, 1990o. Pp.
xiv+346. Acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, maps, epilogue,
index. $29.95.)
For many Americans, the far western landscape is today a source of great
inspiration and pride. Places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the (;rand Can-
yon are national symbols that give distinction and shape to our culture. But, as
Anne Farrar Hyde observes in An American Vision, this has only been the case
since about the turn of this century. Before that time, Americans who visited
the West often lacked a suitable aesthetic framework with which to give mean-
ing to the new landscape they confronted. Hyde argues persuasively that be-
tween 182o and 1920, American explorers, artists, propagandists, and tourists
discovered new ways to understand and interpret the far western landscape
and in the process, helped create an independent American culture.
Hyde finds that most Americans who visited the West during the first half of
the nineteenth century relied heavily upon European aesthetic criterion to de-
scribe the sights they encountered. Western landscape that resembled the En-
glish countryside or the Swiss Alps was expressed in terms familiar to educated
easterners. Yet, as Hyde points out, much of the Far West's unique terrain de-
fied classification according to accepted standards. Between 1 850 and 1870, the
building of the transcontinental railroad kept Americans' interest riveted on
the West but did little to develop new modes of expression for its unfamiliar
landscapes. Railroad promoters, lacking the words and images to give meaning
to large sections of the Far West, advertised it as an American version of Eu-
rope and built elaborate European-style resorts along the transcontinental
routes designed to appeal to wealthy travelers' concern with health and luxury.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, however, American tourists be-
gan to develop a new appreciation for regions avoided by earlier generations.
In the author's words, "The discovery of this variety and distinctive beauty,
along with a growing sense of American self-confidence, jolted Americans out
of their dependence on European scenery" (p. 190). Advances in geology and
ethnology, as well as growing disillusionment with urban life, helped generate a
fascination with the West as a source of national pride, rich in distinctive history
and culture.
The Southwest, for example, dismissed by white Americans during the nine-
teenth century as a hideous, barren waste, was now celebrated as the oldest
settled part of the country while Hopi Indian culture was admired for its sim-

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed April 18, 2014.