Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


American Studies

Reader 1

Bill Anthes

Reader 2

Wendy Cheng

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© 2017 Isobel Morrison


In the middle of the California Desert is an inland desert sea, called the Salton Sea. Its existence is curious, nearly magical. It is California’s largest lake, it is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, it is slowly dying, and its existence is a complete accident. This thesis breaks down the historical narrative of the Salton Sea from a white settler perspective, using theories posed by Yi Fu Tuan about distinctions between space and place. The temporality of spatial locations, the construction of the binaries natural/built, and the moralizing of landscapes all provide further understanding of the Salton Sea’s existence. Throughout history, the white settlers of the Imperial Desert have projected, their morals and desires upon the desert landscape, reforming the space into their vision of the future as a result of their abilities to tame and control rivers. Instead of a future, they produced a place replete with the past: a place considered worthless and potentially dangerous. Through looking at the constructions of space, place, memory, and history, we are better able to understand the birth of this desert sea.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.