While dozens of naturalists had examined discrete Pacific environments prior to the 1830s, the American geologist James Dwight Dana was the first to hypothesize the underlying forces that created and unified this vast ocean basin as a whole. During his four-year journey with the U.S. Exploring Expedition (1838–1842), Dana developed a holistic view of geological systems throughout the Pacific, including those continental lands soon claimed by the United States as its Far West. But Dana's innovative work on Pacific geology and his extra-continental reading of the Far West changed in the 1850s. Like other American explorer-geologists who found cause for reifying a continental geology, Dana's work lost sight of the Pacific Basin and instead focused on the exceptional and spiritually preordained structure of American landforms.

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