Date of Award

Spring 1986

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Political Science & International Relations

First Advisor

Dennis Wiedmann

Second Advisor

Rodney Frey

Third Advisor

Henry Burgess

Abstract

The question of whether or not political lines of demarcation have been historically consistent with natural boundaries between distinct geographical regions inspires an eternal debate. For, in some cases, planned political divisions have closely paralleled natural boundaries, while in others, artificial lines of partition have been agreed upon with more concern for legality and national interest than the "lay of the land.” The boundary between Texas and Mexico would seem to exemplify the first case: politicians and surveyors considerate of southwest topography were naturally inclined to designate the Rio Grande river as both an inherent and politically convenient point of separation between the desert regions. Yet, more often, lines of demarcation have been the result of completely political consideration, excluding the presence of dramatic variation in topography. If the Texas-Mexican border serves as a classic example of both natural and political considerations in boundary drawing, conversely, the act of determining borders surrounding the state of Montana would appear to have been a completely political exercise. Montana's eastern borders defy the course of no less than three major river systems (the Yellowstone, Missouri, and Powder rivers) and in the west, Montana intricately cuts across the twisting labyrinth peaks of the Rocky Mountains. No geographical rationale is apparent when one observes a three-dimensional, topographical map display of the region. Montana is also a very large state. Specifically it is the fourth largest political subdivision in America, stretching five hundred and fifty miles at its largest east to west dimension directly below the Canadian border, and three hundred and twenty five miles at its greatest north to south distance along the Idaho border. Montana's surface area covers an incredible 147,138 square miles. At the outset of our examination of cultural and political distinctions between eastern and western Montana, both the politically determined boundaries and immense magnitude of the state deserve important consideration as related determining variables. For within political boundaries so distant, dramatic, measurable diversities in resource—wealth, belief, culture, and political persuasion are to be expected. Still, as an influencing variable, "size" is perhaps too abstract to account for dynamics of diversity in Montana. Magnitude cannot truthfully be considered a causal variable. Rather, the dimension of the state should be considered a "given," or more technically an "independent" variable, for it is within Montana's dimension that the real, concrete agents creating cultural and political variations are to be found. After a more thorough consideration of these concrete, causal variables, we may then be justified in concluding that although Montana is legally considered one unified political state, it is actually home to two distinct, contrasting and often conflicting regions, and two distinct political philosophies resultant from a further divergence in culture within the two distinct regions.

Share

COinS