American Frontier and Western Issues: A Historiographical Review

By Roger L. Nichols | Go to book overview

3
Economic Development of the
American West

JOHN D. HAEGER

Since 1945, historical writing on the economic and business history of the American West in the nineteenth century has been especially fruitful. It has combined the best of the "old" economic history, which concentrated on the role of individuals and institutions and which today represents the main focus of business historians, with the more theoretical and quantitative work of the "new" economic historians. First, they are often trained as social scientists, or at least are conversant with theories and methods in disciplines like economics and geography. Because social science theories and methods guide their research, they are less interested in a comprehensive description of men and events in economic history and more concerned with explaining the process of economic growth and development. It would be impossible to discuss all the important works on frontier economic history, and thus this essay has several restrictions. The coverage of historians reflecting social science theories and methods is much broader because they have been the most important in setting research agendas for the future. Moreover, many of these scholars represent other disciplines, and consequently, their work is often less well known to us than that of historians. An emphasis on the Old Northwest results from my knowledge of this region and because it is often neglected in historiographic essays. Finally, the essay describes the historical literature on a few topics that best represent the interaction of the old and new economic history.

The absence of general hypotheses to direct research and provide explanations for economic developments is an often-noted failure of frontier historians.1 Yet this generalization is only partially true, for historians, such as Frederick Jackson Turner, Walter Prescott Webb, and Ray Allen Billington, explored the causes for economic expansion and suggested its broader significance for American history. Turner developed the concept of stages to describe how fur traders, farmers, and city dwellers successively exerted their influence on the land. He also recognized that the process had varied, depending on particular regions,

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American Frontier and Western Issues: A Historiographical Review
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vi
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Notes 6
  • 2 - The Environment and the Frontier 7
  • Notes 21
  • 3 - Economic Development of the American West 27
  • Notes 42
  • 4 - Agriculture and Livestock Production 51
  • Notes 60
  • 5 - Frontier Urbanization 69
  • Notes 82
  • 6 - Frontier and Western Transportation 89
  • Notes 104
  • 7 - Mining Frontiers 109
  • Notes 124
  • 8 - Frontier Social History 131
  • Notes 144
  • 9 - Historians and Indians 149
  • Notes 169
  • 10 - Frontier Women 179
  • Notes 194
  • 11 - Ethnic Groups and the Frontier 199
  • Notes 211
  • 12 - Foreign Affairs and Expansion 217
  • Notes 229
  • 13 - Territorial Government 235
  • Notes 244
  • 14 - The Frontier Army 253
  • Notes 264
  • Sources and Repositories for Frontier and Western History 275
  • Index 279
  • About the Contributors 301
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