Regester Lecture: "Democratic Vistas: Re-viewing Western History Impressed in Landscapes"

Douglas Sackman, professor of history, will present this talk.

In his paean to the American art of democracy, Walt Whitman promised to go “To the heights... to make observations for our Vistas, breathing rarest air.” In Democratic Vistas (1871), he claimed to see the United States “enacting today the grandest arts” by “beating up the wilderness into fertile farms” and laying down railroad tracks across the continent. For this talk, Sackman will not attempt to follow in Whitman’s footsteps, though we will speculate on railroads, witness wilderness transformed and constructed, and, following our college’s motto, seek the heights on mountain tops.

This illustrated lecture is a preview of a work in progress, a book titled American Panorama: Rediscovering the History of the North American West, which aims to paint a broad history of the West, at once sweeping and intimate, beginning in the deep past of the region, and paying attention to the interplay of peoples, places, and stories. Each chapter opens with a “panorama”—a painting, winter count, or petroglyph—which Sackman hopes, collectively, will allow us to re-view the broad spectrum of humanity making homelands, or destroying those of others, in this region over time. History has been impressed, materially and culturally, in these landscapes. In our nation’s mythology, the West is supposed to be a grand work in progress—the manifestation of divinely scripted destiny. But this Western progress demands excavation: Sackman invites you to stand with him and look out over the edge of what playwright Suzan-Lori Parks calls the “Great Hole of History.”

Douglas Cazaux Sackman earned a B.A. in political science from Reed College and a Ph.D. in history from UC Irvine. His teaching and research areas include the history of the North American West, environmental history, and Native American history. He is the author of Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden (California 2005) and Wild Men: Ishi and Kroeber in the Wilderness of Modern America (Oxford 2010), and the editor of A Companion to American Environmental History (Blackwell 2010). A Bright Institute Fellow, Sackman has recently given public talks at 5th Avenue Theater, the Tacoma Art Museum, and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

John D. Regester Faculty Lectureship


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