The Midwestern Grid, the Atlas, and An Aerial Imagination
The story of aeriality and midwesternness is a complicated mixture of innovation and continuity. It begins with an assessment of preaviation aerial gazes as a means of seeing, conceptualizing, and constructing prairie space. Faced with the unconventional topography of the prairie in its natural state, the region’s first settlers found traditional horizontally oriented modes of sight insufficiently able to convey an imagery for, or an understanding of, the region. Consequently, the first Midwesterners developed an alternative practice of envisioning the region in which imagined bird’s-eye prospects, coupled with more abstract and cartographically constructed gazes, provided a means to escape the overwhelming openness and relative featurelessness of the terrain and imagine the landscape as organized and hospitable. These practices of aerial looking also exhibited substantial congruence to the broad, rational gaze embedded in the government’s land-survey grid—the actual and ideological template by which the region was settled. Chapter 1 underscores the ways that that grid view and aerial imagination came together to fashion a particular, Jeffersonian, image of the region and its inhabitants and a specialized mode of atlas-oriented prairie description and representation. Chapter 1 lays the groundwork for understanding the historically constructed relationship between Midwestern identity and aerial representation.
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