Many have written about the settling of early 19th century America, but until now no one has explored these settlers’ self-consciousness about what they were doing, what “settling” and cultivating the land itself meant. In The Health of the Country, Conevery Valencius shows that assessments of the “sickliness” or “health” of land pervade settlers’ letters, journals, newspapers, and literature — evidence of the common sense of another time, when land was believed to have intrinsic health characteristics and the human body was understood to be linked in intimate and intricate ways with similar balances in the surrounding world. Valencius focuses her research on the Arkansas and Missouri territories from the time of the Louisiana Purchase to the Civil War, capturing the excitement, romanticism, confusion, and anxiety of the frontier experience and revealing how these emotions were bound up with settlers’ unique relationships with their land. This is a complex and rewarding book, a beautifully written, fresh account of the gritty details of American expansion, animated by the voices of the settlers themselves.
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