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Barnstorming the Prairies

How Aerial Vision Shaped the Midwest

2015
Author:

Jason Weems

Barnstorming the Prairies

How flight led to a new view of the Midwest, making it the center of the nation in more ways than one

Barnstorming the Prairies offers a panoramic vista of the transformative nature and power of the aerial vision that remade the Midwest in the wake of the airplane. Jason Weems explores how the cognitive and perceptual practices of aerial vision helped to resymbolize the Midwestern landscape amid the technological change and social uncertainty of the early twentieth century.

Barnstorming the Prairies deepens our understanding of the Midwest and attitudes toward it in the twentieth century. It is original, authoritative, and an engaging read.

Joni Kinsey, University of Iowa

To Midwesterners tucked into small towns or farms early in the twentieth century, the landscape of the American heartland reached the horizon—and then imagination had to provide what lay beyond. But when aviation took off and scenes of the Midwest were no longer earthbound, the Midwestern landscape was transformed and with it, Jason Weems suggests in this book, the very idea of the Midwest itself.

Barnstorming the Prairies offers a panoramic vista of the transformative nature and power of the aerial vision that remade the Midwest in the wake of the airplane. This new perspective from above enabled Americans to conceptualize the region as something other than isolated and unchanging, and to see it instead as a dynamic space where people worked to harmonize the core traditions of America’s agrarian character with the more abstract forms of twentieth-century modernity. In the maps and aerial survey photography of the Midwest, as well as the painting, cinema, animation, and suburban landscapes that arose through flight, Weems also finds a different and provocative view of modernity in the making. In representations of the Midwest, from Grant Wood’s iconic images to the Prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright to the design of greenbelt suburbs, Weems reveals aerial vision’s fundamental contribution to regional identity—to Midwesternness as we understand it.

Reading comparatively across these images, Weems explores how the cognitive and perceptual practices of aerial vision helped to resymbolize the Midwestern landscape amid the technological change and social uncertainty of the early twentieth century.

Awards

International Society for Landscape, Place, and Material Culture’s Fred B. Kniffen Book Award

Midwestern History Association Book Award

Barnstorming the Prairies

Jason Weems is associate professor of art history at the University of California, Riverside.

Barnstorming the Prairies

Barnstorming the Prairies deepens our understanding of the Midwest and attitudes toward it in the twentieth century. It is original, authoritative, and an engaging read.

Joni Kinsey, University of Iowa

Amazing, refreshing, and thought-provoking.

Leonardo Reviews

An important contribution to the literature on ethnographic and visual history.

CHOICE

Enthusiasts of visual culture, history, and rural life should welcome this book, which performs significant cultural work itself in reorienting scholarly views of the Midwest, and is a strong contribution to the current recentering of the Midwest in American cultural studies.

The Annals of Iowa

Barnstorming the Prairies

Contents

Introduction: Aeriality and Midwesternness
1. Pioneering Visions: The Midwestern Grid, the Atlas, and an Aerial Imagination
2. Managerial Mosaics: New Deal Aerial Photography and the Marshaling of Rural America
3. Adaptive Aeriality: Grant Wood, the Regional Landscape, and Modernity
4. Jeffersonian Urbanism: Frank Lloyd Wright, Aerial Pattern, and Broadacre City
Conclusion: Over the Rainbow
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index