As Idaho’s State Historian, the question Keith Petersen heard most was, “How did Idaho get such a strange shape?” That curiosity is fitting, because those peculiar borders have held enormous influence on much of Idaho’s political, economic, and cultural history, and prompted repeated efforts to connect the north and south.
In Inventing Idaho, Petersen answers that popular inquiry, breaking the state’s intriguing border story into six sections covering the fascinating events and people—often U.S. presidents and other politicians and diplomats who never set foot in the region—involved in creating the boundaries between Idaho and Canada, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. He explains their roots in the French and Indian War, how Idaho’s northern and southern portions were once split between Oregon Territory and Washington Territory, how the state’s panhandle and name can be traced back to a late-night 1863 Senate proposal, how Moscow became home to the University of Idaho, what might happen to a criminal in the “Zone of Death,” and how a gold rush, geographic barriers, differing business and political interests, and more factored into border decisions. In addition, he discusses some of the ramifications Idahoans have faced ever since, and the various attempts to deal with them.
Keith Petersen was Idaho’s State Historian and Associate Director of the Idaho State Historical Society, and his fascination with history has been expressed throughout his career. The author of numerous articles and books about the Northwest, he is the only person to have twice received the Idaho Book Award. This is his fourth book with Washington State University Press, where he formerly served as acquisitions editor. Petersen received the first annual Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities from the Idaho Humanities Council in 1986, the Presidential Medallion from Lewis-Clark State College in 2006, and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Idaho in 2014.
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