The Postal West is a spatial history of one of the defining transformations of the late nineteenth-century United States. When the American Civil War drew to a close in 1865, much of the West remained a sparsely settled and violently contested periphery with only tenuous connections to the rest of the country. Over the next three decades, the West incorporated six new states and millions of new inhabitants into an increasingly interconnected regional system. How did this integrative project unfold so quickly across such a massive area? The answer comes from an unlikely source. More so than the any other institution, the U.S. Post was the midwife of western integration. Its sprawling network of post offices and mail routes connected local communities to larger systems of capital and commerce, law and governance, politics and culture. This dissertation maps where, when, and how that process unfolded in the western states and territories. The spatial infrastructure of the U.S. Post explains the speed and course of the region's integration into the larger nation.
Cameron Blevins is an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University studying the nineteenth-century United States, the American West, and digital history.