Three major migrant streams developed before the U. S. Civil War: one to Oregon, another to California, and a third to Utah. The Oregon Trail and the California Gold Rush have long captured the American imagination and been woven into the national narrative through books, song, paintings, film, and even computer games. In most U.S. history textbooks, these two migrations are clear evidence of America’s determined drive to win the West. But what of the Utah trek? If part of the westward movement, it seems to stand apart from the prevailing narrative and often receives only cursory attention. In explanations that obscure as much as they clarify, historians describe this migration as “utopian,” the quest of a persecuted people seeking religious freedom and a new and better way of life. Here, the
Utah migration merges (and perhaps becomes lost) in the nation of immigrants and pioneers story that so frames much of American History. 

Manifest Destiny Reconsidered: The Utah Experience aims to complicate the standing narrative of western expansion through intensive study of Utah’s migration and settlement from 1847-1869. In doing so, it also will investigate how the emerging nation tried to define what it mean to be “American,” with particular focus on immigration, religion,
race, gender, and class and an interest in addressing how such issues continue to shape our nation’s political and social debates.  The workshops will be held at the Tanner Humanities Center and at historic sites and landmarks in
the Salt Lake City area on June 18-23 (national) and July 9-14, 2017 (commuter). 


Workshop check-in and registration will begin Sunday, June 18th (national) and Sunday, July 9th (commuter) from 5-6pm MST with a kick-off event beginning at 6pm MST. Workshops will wrap by week's end, Friday, June 23rd (national) and Friday, July 14th (commuter) by 6pm MST.


The chronological focus will be 1847-1869, and the overall logic will be linear and thematic: from migration to reintegration. The workshop will open with a scholarly analysis of Manifest Destiny (Day 1), which will set the context for studying the arrival of Utah pioneers in the Great Basin in 1847, territorial settlement (including interactions with native tribes), and the quest for isolation (Day 2). The following days will delve deeper into these topics by examining the shifting gender roles of pioneers, the public practice of polygamy (which was openly acknowledged in 1852), and suffrage (Day 3). Participants will then analyze the role of theocracy through the lens of the Utah War and Mountain Meadows Massacre, which occurred in 1857 (Day 4) and further investigate Native American and settler relations through a study of the 1863 Bear River Massacre (Day 5). The workshop will close by focusing on the driving of the final spike of the transcontinental railroad in Utah in 1869 and considering its mixed role in reintegrating Utah into the nation.  We also will discuss how issues at the forefront of settling the Utah Territory –freedom of religion, citizenship, equality, federal vs. state rights, economic opportunity, and use of force – continue to shape our nation’s political and social debates.


  • What were the roots and the results of Manifest Destiny in nineteenth century America?
  • What are the similarities and differences between migration and settlement patterns in Utah and those in Oregon and California?
  • What principles guided settler-Native American relations in the Utah Territory?
  • How did gender and familial practices in the Utah Territory press against nineteenth century American norms?
  • How did theocracy, polygamy, communalism, and relations with Native Americans affect  national views of Utah’s pioneers?
  • What were the causes and consequences of the Utah War, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and the Bear River Massacre and what can they teach us about federal-territorial relations?
  • What impact did the transcontinental railroad have on Utah’s relationship to the nation and to the people who built and traveled it?
  • How do issues that arose in the Utah Territory provide an historical framework for analyzing the current political and social climate in America?


During “Manifest Destiny Reconsidered: The Utah Experience,” teachers will travel to and engage with with the following historic sites and landmarks: 

this-is-the-place-monumentEmigration Canyon National Historic Landmark

This is the Place Heritage State Park

Beehive House

The Lion House

Fort Douglas Military Museum

Bear River Massacre National Historic Landmark

Golden Spike National Historic Site

The Utah State Railroad Museum

NEH Disclaimer: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program
do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Last Updated: 6/15/17