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Making Place and Nation: Geographic Meaning and the Americanization of Oregon: 1834-1859



Making Place and Nation: Geographic Meaning and the Americanization of Oregon: 1834-1859


MacKenzie Katherine Lee Moore

Doctor of Philosophy in History

University of California, Berkeley

Professor David Henkin, Chair

"Making Place and Nation: Geographic Meaning and the Americanization of Oregon: 1834-1859" examines the ways colonists worked to counteract the problem of Oregon's complicated geographic situation in order to naturalize the territory's membership in the nation between the first American missionary settlement and admission as the union's thirty-third state. Driven by their desire for national inclusion, colonists ascribed national meanings to local actions while also adapting national narratives to fit their immediate experience. This study uses two key concepts to spatially reconstruct the colonial experience: mental maps and vernacular geography. Colonists relied on mental mapping to navigate and to organize geographic knowledge, and this cognitive practice became part of the spatially focused community discourse dubbed vernacular geography. Locally produced geographic discourse united under one rubric the twin objectives that defined the conquest of Oregon: to civilize the landscape and eliminate the Indian presence therein, and to concurrently rewrite the map of the United States with Oregon squarely within its borders. Thus, "Making Place and Nation" asserts that the conquest of Oregon is best understood as a recursive process of making both place and nation.

The dissertation relies on a wide variety of documentary materials, including personal and official letter correspondence, diaries and travelogues, pioneer reminiscences, petitions to local and federal government entities, newspapers, and official reports to agents of the central government. These sources reveal that colonists read both the physical transformation of Oregon's environment and the amount of independence enjoyed by native groups as indicators of the territory's potential for national incorporation

The following chapters reinterpret a series of key events in the history of Oregon's colonization. Chapter One traces the role of mental mapping in establishing an American colony. Chapter Two explores colonists' conceptual tools to manage anxiety about sharing territory with independent Indian groups and their destruction in the 1847 Whitman Massacre. Chapter Three scrutinizes the production of local geographic knowledge as a method of wresting spatial control from Indians during the California and Southwest Oregon Gold Rush (1848-1853). Chapter Four analyzes the territorial dimensions of a colonial program of ethnic cleansing toward Indians in the Rogue River War (1855-56). Chapter Five investigates the extinguishment of Indian title and its relationship to the uneven implementation of the Oregon Donation Land Act during the era of removal (1856-1859).

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