The Shaping of America

A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, Volume 1: Atlantic America 1492-1800

D. W. Meinig

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This entirely fresh interpretation of American history by a renowned historical geographer is the first in a projected three-volume series. Meinig here focuses on colonial America, examining how an immense diversity of ethnic and religious groups—Europeans, Africans, American Indians—ultimately created a set of distinct regional societies. Richly illustrated with more then forty specially prepared maps and contemporary illustrations, this volume prompts us to rethink the settling of North America.

“A standard work in its field. . . . For readers seeking a bird’s-eye view of early American geography. . . there is no better guide available.”—William Cronon, New York Times Book Review

“Simply the best book in the English language by a contemporary geographer I have read over the past forty-odd years, and one of the most important. . . . A magisterial achievement, a grand shaking up and reassembling of fact and ideas.”—Wilbur Zelinsky, Journal of Geography

“All historians of the American experience should read and come to terms with this book.”—Malcolm J. Rohrbough, Georgia Historical Quarterly

“This book is a masterpiece in the best and old sense of the word.”—Alfred W. Crosby, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

A selection of the History Book Club

"The Shaping of America will stand for generations as a research and publishing milestone. Its scope is simply breathtaking. . . . There can be no doubt about the superb and sustained scholarship exhibited by The Shaping of America. It is a truly astonishing achievement. . . . Meinig's project is simply stunning in its ambition as well as outstanding in its achievement. Its scope and its completion mark it as one of the most remarkable products of North American geography during the twentieth century."—Alan R.H. Baker, Journal of Historical Geography

“A story of the peopling of North America that is different, original, coherent, and altogether fascinating. It will be controversial but will be seen as a landmark in American historiography. . . . A magisterial work.”—Howard R. Lamar, Yale University
 



 

 


 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 
 


 

 
 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

"One of modern geography's most substantial achievements. . . . The project, taken as a whole and at face value, evokes the same sort of awe as (and many of the superlatives used to describe) the Grand Canyon. . . . The resulting volumes are notable feats of condensation, integration and interpretation. Each rests upon prodigious reading and the intelligent assimilation of arguments new and old advanced by scholars from a number of disciplines. In every volume, indeed it is no exaggeration to say on every page of every volume, Meinig writes with skill and care. . . . There can be no doubt that it is a remarkable achievement, one of the great accomplishments of twentieth century American geography. Meinig can only be admired for the scope of this ambitious project and the consummate skill and dogged resolve with which he brought it to fruition. He has painted a coherent and often compelling picture on a canvas far larger than most geographers have thought to address and which hardly any seem likely to engage in the future."—Graeme Wynn, Journal of Historical Geography

“A major scholarly work . . . researched in depth. . . . In this first volume, Meinig carries his thoughtful history to the close of the 18th century, when England's triumph in the centuries-long struggle was answered by the claim to maturity of 13 federated colonies or “regional societies” in a boldly proclaimed Declaration of Independence. A fresh look at history.”—Publishers Weekly
 

“When I studied Texas seriously, I found D.W. Meinig's short, perceptive book, Imperial Texas, to be an excellent summary of things I vaguely knew, and a treasure of insights that I had not reached myself. Now he's tackling the whole country, and I expect equally fine results for his whole new series on America.”—James Michener
 

“Employ[s] a geographer’s perspective to explore ‘social and cultural patterns.’  In doing this, Meinig ably proves that geography has been seriously ‘undervalued’ in the study of America's development. Especially noteworthy is Meinig’s major theme that America has been ‘created by massive aggression against a long succession of peoples.’. . . Very highly recommended for academic and large public libraries.”—Library Journal

“Meinig is to be commended for the broad, Braudelian sweep that he undertakes here. America, usually seen in isolation, is pictured as art of a triptych encompassing Canada and South America, with itself in the middle. History on a grand scale.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A monumental platform from which to view the over-all growth of the New World. . . . Meinig gives us lucidly written and beautifully illustrated portraits of New England, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas, and the tropical islands of the Caribbean. He is concerned with American diversity, even if not in those cruder terms of an earlier day:  white, red and black, or Catholic, Protestant and heathen. He looks for basic social identities carried to the new side of the world. . . . [A] fine work.”—Donald Jackson, Washington Post Book World

The Shaping of America is a welcome proof that it is still possible, in this country, to provide “geographical perspective” on a grand scale. Meinig is a geographer with a deep interest in, and knowledge of, history, economy, political science and the arts. His work provides a sweeping, panoramic outlook on one of the most important events in human history: the conquest of the New World by Europeans and the multiple interactions, through three centuries. . . . Using an impressive number of original sources, Meinig offers a clear and concise exposition, complemented with a number of quite original graphs and illustrations. . . . It should be required reading for any person—especially in politics or public life—who wants to understand the many forces and interests that shaped the United States and its neighbors in the New World.”—Carlos B. Hagen-Lautrup, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“It has been nearly 40 years since anyone dared attempt a book like this—a comprehensive historical geography of North America—and no one before D.W. Meinig has embarked on such a project with so large an ambition. . . . There is little doubt it will remain a standard work in its field. . . . For readers seeking a bird’s-eye view of early American geography . . . there is no better guide available.”—William Cronon, New York Times Book Review

“A work of immense scholarship, elegantly written as historical work at its best traditionally has been: sometimes heavy with detail but never pompous. . . . A superbly engrossing book.”—Edgar Z. Friedenberg, Toronto Globe & Mail 

“One of those rare books which is both a scholarly study and as absorbing as a first-rate biography, which, in a sense, it is: the life of the United States. The spacious story is unusually well told, with a narrative sweep that takes in small farmsteads as well as the vast consequences of historical events.”—House & Garden

“Simply the best book in the English language by a contemporary geographer I have read over the past forty-odd years, and one of the most important. . . . A magisterial achievement, a grand shaking up and reassembling of facts and ideas. Its publication is thus more than just a watershed event for our semi-visible college of historical geographer in North America.”—Wilbur Zelinsky, Journal of Geography

“Would that more geographers dared to work at such a grand scale and wrote for such a wide readership in a way all literate persons can understand.”—G. Malcolm Lewis, Geographical Journal 
 

“The Shaping of America, volume one, is one of the classic amalgamation of geography and history in the current literature. Meinig does a superlative job of demonstrating the inseparable nature of the two disciplines at this scale of examination.”—Kenneth C. Martis, Journal of American History

“Given the quality of scholarship, organization, explanation, and writing, historians can only stand somewhat in awe and wait expectantly for the next installment. This is history in the old style, bold, sweeping, insightful, and majestic.”—Reginald C. Stuart, Canadian Journal of History

“All historians of the American experience should read and come to terms with this book.”—Malcolm J. Rohrbough, Georgia Historical Quarterly

"This is an important work, its forty specially prepared maps are thought-provoking, and the sweeping Annales-like scope awe-inspiring. Some of Meinig's generalizations, in both this volume and its sequel, which will have a continental rather than an Atlantic focus, are bound to be as controversial as they are intriguing."—Journal of the Early Republic

"A masterpiece of creative scholarship."—American Studies International

"This book is a masterpiece in the best and old sense of the word, i.e., a proof offered by a craftsman that his skills have advanced to the point at which the masters must accept him as a peer. Meinig's peers are the finest living geographers and historians of America."—Alfred W. Crosby, Southwestern Historical Quarterly  

"A tonic to the mind, generating . . . recurrent waves of intellectual excitement. . . . Meinig repeatedly demonstrates, geographical sensitivity can and should add a valuable new dimension to the effort to make the American past intelligible."—William H. McNeill, New England Quarterly 

"The evolution of regions within North America is seen as a logical outgrowth of conditions in Europe, Africa, South America, and North America itself. The flow of people, goods, and, most important, ideas through and around this Atlantic world shapes and fashions the human experiences and landscapes of eastern North America. Thought-provoking maps and diagrams illustrate this grand conceptualization. This book, and the two volumes to follow, are bound to be prized possessions for all students and scholars of the historical geography of North America."—Choice

"Donald Meinig has given us this effort in grand style showing what we have and how we got it. In addition he has provided a new dynamic view of the practice of historical geography, an anticipation of new enlightenment to be gained in political geography, and the pleasant prospect of two further volumes in this highly significant work."—James E. Vance, Jr., Annals of the Association of American Geographers

"A logically sustained, finely organized geographical interpretation of the initial three centuries of Europeanization of the portion of North America that became the United States. The book has the hallmarks of scholarship that we have come to expect from Meinig: fresh and innovative interpretations, methodological currency, and grand sweep. . . . Meinig has produced in this book something that is unique in the American geographical literature. He is the first geographer to respond positively to the challenge of writing a synthesis of American history from a geographical perspective. . . . An example of speculative scholarship at its best, a masterful addition to the geographical literature."—Douglas R. McManis, Geographical Reviews

"Meinig's account of the shaping of America is a milestone in the historiography of the historical geography of North America; it essays what no historical geographer has endeavoured before and it does so in a highly distinctive manner. . . . Meinig's monumental study is a convincing testimony to the vitality of historical geography in North America today."—A. R. H. Baker, Environment and Planning

"Meinig writes with enviable clarity and vigor, giving the reader a vivid impression of a mind as expansive and complex as his subject."—James Axtell, William and Mary Quarterly

"This book gives us a realistic, human dimension of that epic struggle: the conquest and settlement of the New World, including what would become the United States."—Carlos B. Hagen-Lautrup

"[An] admirably ambitious and lavishly illustrated volume."—Jack P. Greene, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"We have nothing quite like it in scope and expansiveness in our scholarly literature. Historians and geographers will ignore it at their peril."—Don Higginbotham, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"This book looks at the geographic, historical, and ethnocultural influences which shaped the Old West settlement of the New from the fifteenth to the end of the eighteenth centuries. D.W. Meinig weaves the three elements together to give us a picture of the unfolding of the greatest human enterprise undertaken between the dawn of civilization and the opening of the space frontier. This enterprise is the coordination of human material and intellectual resources to discover and populate, or repopulate and reorder, half the world, and in the process, transform the other half as well. . . . Meinig expands our horizons at every turn. . . . This is panoramic history at its best. . . . Impressive, enlightening, and thought-provoking."—Daniel J. Elazar, Western Historical Quarterly

"This is the most ambitious project ever undertaken by a North American geographer: to describe and interpret the evolution of America from the beginning of modern European contact with the New World to the present day."—Journal of Historical Geography

"A lucid refocusing of standard historical materials around the process of place creation along the North American Atlantic shore. [Meinig] details the implantation of twelve distinctive culture areas by European and African peoples, their subsequent consolidation into six regions . . . and their changing functional relationships with each other and with England. . . . A masterful synthesis of geography and history . . . and an excellent guide to the patterns and processes that operated during the 300 years of American colonization."—James R. Shortridge, American Studies

D. W. Meinig is the recipient of the Association of American Geographers Presidential Achievement Award

"A story of the peopling of North America that is different, original, coherent, and altogether fascinating. It will be controversial but will be seen as a landmark in American historiography. . . . A magisterial work."—Howard R. Lamar, Yale University

Winner of a 1986 Geographic Society of Chicago Publication Award.

Winner of the Charles P. Daly Medal given by the American Geographical Society
ISBN: 9780300038828
Publication Date: July 27, 1988
524 pages, 7 x 10
87 b/w illus.
The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History

Volume 3: Transcontinental America, 1850–1915

D. W. Meinig

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The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History

Volume 2: Continental America, 1800–1867

D. W. Meinig

View details