Unknown Territories

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An interactive series about the exploration, exploitation and transformation of the American West.

Following works by John Wesley Powell and Edward Abbey, filmmaker Roderick Coover creates actual and virtual explorations into the places they wrote about, the landscapes they imagined and contemporary land use.

When John Wesley Powell first navigated the Colorado River in 1869, much of the great American desert was marked on U.S. government maps as an "unknown territory" -- unmapped lands known only to native cultures. His works name, narrative and mythologize the West and his encounters within it. Ironically, later, as U.S. Geographer, Powell came to recognized perils of unsustainable development, but his calls to restrict growth to natural watersheds were rejected.

Writer Edward Abbey moved to the Canyonlands region of the Great American Desert in the late 1950s at a time when air-conditioning, access to abundant water and power from massive dam projects, a cold war boom in uranium mining, and an automobile-driven boom in tourism were transforming the landscape. Abbey worked as a ranger and fire-lookout in Utah and Arizona, and he wrote about what he saw: beauty, destruction, and rising communities of resistance. Abbey's words ignited debates about the role of direct action and free speech in local and national discourse, and they helped to forge new ways of thinking about communities, deserts, and protest.

(source: http://astro.temple.edu/~rcoover/UnknownTerritories/index.html)

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Hannah Ackermans