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Landscapes of Promise and Betrayal: Reclamation, Homesteading, and Japanese American Incarceration

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Abstract:

The reclamation of arid lands in the Western United States is a key topic studied by scholars of the region. The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II occupies a place of similar prominence among those studying Asian American history. Yet neither group has carefully examined the relationship between federal reclamation and incarceration. Three of the ten concentration camps were built on U.S. Bureau of Reclamation irrigation projects, which the agency developed as agrarian landscapes for white settlers. This article examines the Klamath Basin, home to one of the first federal irrigation projects and the site of the Tule Lake War Relocation Center, the largest concentration camp built during the war. The construction of the camp and the incarceration of Japanese Americans disrupted preexisting and largely unexamined notions of the irrigated landscape as a white space. After the war, locals used the physical remnants of the camps to continue developing a white agricultural landscape. This study raises questions about who benefited from state-directed land transformations in the West, whom the nation decided to honor after the war, and how these preferences were etched into the landscape. This article will also hopefully encourage geographers to extend perspectives from environmental history and race and landscape studies to examine pivotal events in American history.

Keywords: Japanese Americans; homesteading; incarceration; landscape; whiteness

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00045608.2010.545291

Affiliations: Department of Geography, Syracuse University,

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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