"The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History" by D. W. Meinig

The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History Volume 2: Continental America, 1800–1867 D. W. Meinig

Publication date:
22 Feb 1995
Yale University Press
656 pages: 254 x 178mm
86 b-w illus.

When Volume 1 of Donald Meinig's sweeping history of America was published, reviewers called it "a masterpiece in the best and old sense of the word" (Alfred W. Crosby, Southwestern Historical Quarterly), "a standard work in its field" (William Cronon, New York Times Book Review), and "one of the classic amalgamations of geography and history in the current literature" (Kenneth C. Martis, Journal of American History). In this new volume, the second in a projected four-volume series, D. W. Meinig again provides a fresh interpretation of the American past, bringing his special geographical perspective to the years between 1800 and 1867, the period when the nation experienced a dramatic expansion in territory, population, economy, and political tension that culminated in the Civil War. As in his first volume, Atlantic America, Meinig assesses the characteristics of regions and political territories and the relations among them, examining the dual roles played by geopolitics and ethnoculture in the shaping of the United States.

Meinig emphasizes the flux, uncertainty, and unpredictability of the expansion into continental America, showing how a multitude of individuals confronted complex and problematic issues. He discusses, for example, Jefferson's options regarding the Louisiana Purchase and the effects of his decisions on the Louisianians, and later controversies about U.S. pressures on Mexico and Cuba. He carefully traces the expansion of distinct regional societies and the social and geographical repositioning of various peoples (Indians, African-Americans, and subgroups of each). He describes and assesses the emerging patterns of cities, waterways, roads, railways, and attempts at national planning. And he presents the geopolitical alternatives considered in dealing with initial secessions, and the ragged tearing apart of the nation in 1861. Throughout, Meinig places the United States in its broader North American context, focusing on its relations with Canada, Mexico, and the West Indies.

Richly illustrated with maps, plans, and scenes, many of which were specially prepared for the book, Continental America is at once an invaluable complement to and a penetrating critique of more ordinary American histories.

D.W. Meinig is Maxwell Research Professor of Geography at Syracuse University.

"A monumental achievement. Meinig's book is a distinctive, highly personal, and brilliant interpretation of continental expansion."—Carville Earle, Louisiana State University

"A rich, dazzling, indispensable reinterpretation of an expanding America, with a panoramic view that embraces all of its regions and all of its peoples."—David Weber, author of The Spanish Frontier in North America

"Meinig has done it again. He manages to traverse terrain familiar to others and see it entirely freshly. Perhaps it's because he refuses to be trapped by the conventional ideas of any of the four or five academic disciplines which he has mastered in order to do his work. He has a mind impatient with the unconsidered, a style at once beguiling and convincing, and a seriousness of intention expressed cheerfully. This is a very good book."—Roger G. Kennedy, director of the National Museum of American History