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This study traces the flowering of Western scientific exploration during the fifteen years following the Civil War. During these years, the empirical modes of perception and representation associated with Western exploration gained growing cultural authority and increasingly came to frame discussions of Western policy. At the same time, the systematic exploration of the West revealed the region in new and sometimes startling ways, in some cases prompting far-reaching revisions in the nation's self-perception. The stakes of these revisions became especially acute in the 1870's as the nation's frontier line flowed toward the alien landscapes of the arid West, prompting both anxieties and debates concerning the nation's future. These anxieties and debates found expression in the verbal and visual discourses associated with nineteenth-century science, discourses that played a vital role in mediating the West for Eastern readers. The discourses under examination here include the following: exploration narratives and reports, especially the work of John Wesley Powell; cartography and graphic representations of data, with particular emphasis on Francis Amasa Walker's Statistical Atlas of the United States; the elite magazine press, notably the Nation and the North American Review, which provided forums for debate of Western policy; and, finally, the discourse of public display, especially as exemplified in the Western geographic and ethnological exhibits at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. The roots of these discourses and the modes of vision they suggest are traced to the foundational figure of Thomas Jefferson, whose early support for Western exploration formed the template for later efforts. The discourses noted above combined to form important perceptual frameworks brought to bear on the West, and they in turn supported an image of the region and its native inhabitants that naturalized and legitimated dominant narratives of American progress, while occluding many of the troubling political dimensions of national expansion, including the place, both literal and figurative, of Native Americans in the nation's future. This occlusion took place within a broader ideological process whereby the West, traditionally a symbol for republican individualism, was reconfigured as a field for corporate consolidation.