Blake Mitchell


The Prairie Condition: The Frontier, Myth, and Other Symptoms

Advised by Edward Eigen

Meaning, aesthetics, and value are imbricated throughout history. The United States’ land ethic operates within an episteme of prominence, where the sublime, the biodiverse, the rare are protected. As the climate crisis unfurls and uncertainty continues, we carry assumptions that are not our own, positions that may be inherited. That is, what we protect and what we replicate are connected to what we value. This thesis traces through history the movement and meaning of specific figures and conditions in and on the American prairie. As a complicated and contested landscape protagonist, the prairie remains in aesthetic and conservation limbo. This thesis explores the aesthetic shifts, drifts of taste, and symptoms regarding the prairie from the 19th century to the present. Through the interplay of texts, histories, and subjects, this thesis aims to untangle and expose the mutability of meaning and value of the prairie.

Black-and-white digital image collage of a wild American prairie environment featuring indigenous people, wildlife, many shrubs and tall grasses. A section of the sky appears to be opened up to expose a negative image of trees and another ”outside.’