Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Rigal, Laura

Second Advisor

Merrill, Christopher

First Committee Member

Bolton, Linda

Second Committee Member

Morris, Adalaide

Third Committee Member

Rohrbough, Malcolm


Generations of literary critics have claimed that geography plays a prominent role in the production of Pacific Northwest literature; however, no one has meaningfully interpreted the literary and cultural history of the region in relation to United States water policy and the Bureau of Reclamation's transformation of the Columbia River Basin. This dissertation argues that the literary and cultural history of the Pacific Northwest becomes coherent only when the environmental, cultural, socio-economic and generational histories of this watershed are placed at the center of scholarly inquiry.

The project maps and traces ways that local and national narratives from the late- nineteenth and early-twentieth century worked alongside the federal government to transform the Columbia River Basin into an awaiting "Promised Land" of socio-economic progress, while writers and activists since the 1960s have used bioregional prose and poetry to spark a revival of localized counter-reclamation that stresses the importance of social activism and the attempt to find more sustainable methods of inhabiting the Pacific Northwest. The role that literature has played in the federal claiming and local reclaiming of the Columbia River Basin is argued and illustrated through an interdisciplinary and site based approach to literary studies that draws from conversations in environmental history, religious studies, cultural geography, visual arts, and Native American studies.

The chapters investigate canonical and virtually unknown sources of regional literature, while offering historically and geographically informed investigations of key sites within the Columbia River Basin that were transformed by the federal government over a one hundred and fifty year span of time: the Yakima Valley (1855-1920s), Grand Coulee Dam and Hanford Engineer Works (1930s-1940s), and The Dalles Dam and Celilo Falls (1950s-1960s). The project concludes by revisiting these sites through recent prose and poetry (1970s-2009), tracing how the poetic line, in particular, has been used by regional writers to document the socio-economic, environmental, local and international consequences of the federal reclamation process. After mapping historical and geographical links between selected poems and places throughout the watershed, I explore how site specific installations of poetry as public art on the Methow and Spokane rivers have been used by local community groups to transform and re-create stretches of water in large tributaries of the Columbia River Basin.

By putting the environmental, cultural, socio-economic and generational histories of the Columbia River Basin at the center of my investigation of Pacific Northwest literature, this dissertation ultimately invites readers to actively reclaim and transform the Columbia River Basin on intellectual, local, and practical levels, not only for a more complex understanding of the Pacific Northwest's literary and cultural history, but in order to find more localized and sustainable methods of inhabiting western watersheds.


ix, 350 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 329-350).


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Copyright © 2010 Chad Duane Wriglesworth