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Pacific Historical Review

"Uncharted Terrain: The Challenge of Re-Imagining the Past"Join us for the 109th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, August 4-6, 2016.

A Divide to Heal the Union: The Creation of the Continental Divide

by James D. Drake

"A Divide to Heal the Union: The Creation of the Continental Divide" traces the process by which people in the United States embraced the Continental Divide as a geographic feature of North America in the late 1860s. Building on recent work in environmental history, Civil War memory, geography, and the history of nationalism, the essay explains how accurate mapping alone did not reveal the Continental Divide. Instead, the divide’s conceptualization also depended on Americans’ history of thinking about the Rockies as a political boundary, southern secession, and the building of the transcontinental railroad. Many Americans found in that railroad’s construction solace for a nation recovering from the Civil War, and they cast themselves as conquering nature to unite the nation. Railroad boosters and passengers consecrated the Continental Divide as a symbol of national unity and an icon of obstacles overcome. In a nation trying to overcome its sectional division between North and South, aspirations for reunification formed a foundation for emphasizing the continent’s most prominent feature that separates East and West.

Pacific Historial Review, Vol. 84, No.4

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Pacific Historical Review: 84 (4)

Vol. 84 No. 4
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ISSN: 0030-8684
eISSN: 1533-8584
Frequency: Quarterly
Published: February, May, August, November


About the Journal

For over eighty years, Pacific Historical Review has accurately and adeptly covered the rich history of the Pacific Rim, including U.S. expansion to the Pacific and beyond, cross-cultural and comparative studies, race and ethnicity, history of empire and imperialism, environmental history, and historiography. The journal seeks to foster dialogue between scholars of disparate—yet intricately related—fields of history by offering a common medium of publication.


Khalil Johnson, Jr., the Arrell M. Gibson Award of the WHA for "The Chinle Dog Shoots: Federal Governance and Grass-roots Politics in Postwar Navajo Country" 

Verity McInnis, the Jensen-Miller Award for WHA for "Indirect Agents of Empire: Army Officers’ Wives in British India and the American West, 1830–1875" 

Kelly Lytle Hernández, the Louis Knott Koontz Memorial Award of the PCB-AHA for "Hobos in Heaven: Race, Incarceration, and the Rise of Los Angeles, 1880–1910"

Paul Hirsch, the W. Turrentine Jackson Article Prize of the PCB-AHA for "'This Is Our Enemy': The Writers’ War Board and Representations of Race in Comic Books, 1942–1945"

Beth Lew-Williams, the Madison Prize of the SHFG for "Before Restriction Became Exclusion: America’s Experiment in Diplomatic Immigration Control" 

Catherine Christensen, the Nupur Chaudhuri First Article Prize of the CCWH for "Mujeres Publicas: American Prostitutes in Baja California, 1910–1930" 

Linda C. Noel, the Michael P. Malone Award of the WHA for "'I am an American': Anglos, Mexicans, Nativos, and the National Debate over Arizona and New Mexico Statehood"