Paper Trails: The Us Post and the Making of the American West


Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
6.9 X 10.1 X 0.9 inches | 1.45 pounds

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About the Author

Cameron Blevins is Associate Professor, Clinical Teaching Track, in the History Department at the University of Colorado Denver, and is a respected leader in the field of digital history.


Perhaps not since Miracle on 34th Street extolled the United States Postal Service for exonerating Santa Claus has an in-depth examination of post office history been so interesting as Cameron Blevinsâs Paper Trails.... In many waysÂPaper TrailsÂdoes for post offices what William CrononâsÂNatureâs
MetropolisÂdid for grain elevators. He slices them open and turns them inside out, explaining both their inner workings and significance in understanding the big picture. Scholars interested in postal history, digital history, western expansion, state power, and the analysis of large-scale
structures and systems should read this book. They will find that they will never look at their local post office--or perhaps even their Facebook page--the same way again.. -- Michael A. Amundson, Environmental History

This work traces the meteoric rise of the US postal system in its quest to connect far-flung reaches of the remote American West in the late 19th century. Blevins argues that similar to current enmeshed corporations like Google or Amazon, the postal system structurally transformed American history.
He further contends that 'the US post was the underlying spatial circuitry of western expansion' and enabled the ensuing--and tragic--human conquest and full-scale resource exploitation that rapidly followed. Yet, local post offices also served as community hubs, knitting together remote rural
communities. A product of the relatively new subfield of digital history, this study also draws on extensive data sets, maps, and scores of archival records to create a remarkable textual and visual record based on spatial analysis of an immense and sprawling federal apparatus. -- Choice

Paper Trails is recommended for those open to a closer inspection of western development, of which the U.S. Post is no doubt an integral layer. Among the familiar, readers will be challenged to consider new perspectives in new ways, and in the process they will be introduced to a host of
interesting characters and characteristics. -- Dan K. Utley, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

In this impressive and innovative work, Cameron Blevins uses digital history methods to carefully document how the US Postal Service facilitated American settlement in the far West during the late nineteenth century ... it is at once social history, political history, business history, and policy
history presented in clear, lively prose that makes for fascinating reading. -- John Majewski, Missouri Historical Review

A shining masterpiece of interdisciplinary scholarship....Blevins's brilliance lies in his expert balance of broad, sweeping analysis and detailed social history. Paper Trails is not just a story about data and state functions but also a chronicle about ordinary people whose lives were impacted by
accessibility to the largest-scale postal service in the world....Blevins argues that postal centralization, characterized by an agency model of public-private partnerships, local agents, and contractors, enabled the rapid development of postal services essential to the nation's periphery through
outsourced employees, transportation, and postal facilities....Maps, charts, and captivatingly written narratives...illustrate his data, examine broad historical questions, and reinforce his central arguments. -- Robert O'Dell III, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Cameron Blevins's Paper Trails: The U.S. Post and the Making of the American West is a wonderful example of digital history built on information technology and archival research. -- Marc Levinson, Wall Street Journal

Paper Trails offers a timely reminder that the post has always been political. [...] One of the most striking aspects of Paper Trails isn't in the book. Mr Blevins is a digital historian, meaning he uses data science to analyse historical trends. He built an accompanying website replete with
interactive maps to show readers how, within a generation, the postal service helped colonise a continent. These online dispatches beautifully illustrate the formative power of snail mail. -- The Economist

Paper Trails is the kind of book that will, I believe, spark greater interest in less familiar aspects of the American story, and for that, Mr. Blevins deserves thanks. -- Mark A. Kellner, Washington Times

Paper Trails has a great deal to interest and provoke thought in readers of all stripes, philatelists included. -- Susanna Mills, American Philatelist

A thoughtful consideration of an overlooked but clearly central aspect of westward expansion. -- Kirkus

In the hands of Cameron Blevins, isolated post offices become windows into life in the American West. With great skill, Blevins portrays the expansive growth of the American state in an original, surprising, and persuasive way. -- Edward L. Ayers, winner of the Bancroft Prize

With the publication of Paper Trails, Cameron Blevins emerges as a leader in a critically important but under-recognized genre: books in which authors make fully persuasive cases for the great importance of historical subjects that their predecessors barely noticed. With the intensity and range of
Blevins's research, the clarity and vigor of his writing style, and, most of all, his distinctive perspective on the relationship between the history of the American West and the history of the federal government, this book gains the status of a fresh appraisal of the arrangements of power and
population in the West and in the nation as a whole. -- Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of Legacy of Conquest

In this engaging and beautifully written book, Cameron Blevins combines rich archival detail and the insights of spatial analysis to provide a nuanced account of how the federal government shaped the settlement of the US West. Paper Trails will make you see state power in entirely new ways. --
Rachel St. John, University of California, Davis

As the human presence of the American state, the postal system diffused office and service across a continental landscape. In teaching this lesson and others, Cameron Blevins has produced a study so methodologically and empirically rich that it sets a model for disciplines beyond history. --
Daniel Carpenter, author of Democracy by Petition: Popular Politics in Transformation, 1790-1870

Paper Trails is a sweeping overview of a major US government agency in the nineteenth-century trans-Mississippi West. By combining modern digital mapping techniques with traditional archival research, Blevins shows how postal policy can help us better understand the rise of the modern American
state. -- Richard R. John, author of Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse