Sarah Keyes, "American Burial Ground: A New History of the Overland Trail" (U Pennsylvania Press, 2023)


The Overland Trail into the American West is one of the most culturally recognizable symbols of the American past: white covered wagons traversing the plains, filled with heroic pioneers embodying the nation's manifest destiny. In American Burial Ground: A New History of the Overland Trail (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2023), University of Nevada assistant professor of history Sarah Keyes rewrites that well-worn story. Keyes book focuses on a topic that was at the forefront of the minds of those who traveled the train - death. 6,000 (or perhaps more) people died traveling West during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, and in a nation where death rituals held strong symbolic meaning, the realities of dying on the trail were troubling to westward settlers. By looking at the trail through the lens of death, Keyes also includes other forms of, and institutions central to, western migration, namely Indian Removal and the US Army. American Burial Ground is a fresh look at a topic that many people think they know something about - historians will never look at westward migration the same way again.

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Stephen Hausmann

Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is a Mellon Fellow with the National Park Service working for Mount Rushmore National Monument, is the Acting Executive Director of the American Society for Environmental History. Starting in 2025, he will begin teaching as an assistant professor of American environmental history at Appalachian State University.

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