American Frontier and Western Issues: A Historiographical Review

By Roger L. Nichols | Go to book overview

5
Frontier Urbanization

LAWRENCE H. LARSEN

There is a direct connection between the historiography of the frontier city and the evolution of urban history as a subject area. The formal study of cities by professional historians is of fairly recent vintage. In 1946, Bayrd Still, of New York University, taught the first college-level urban history course. Most early monographs were "case studies" designed to serve as starting points for more comprehensive investigations. It was not until 1967 that Charles N. Glaab and A. Theodore Brown wrote the first historical synthesis that defined relevant themes.1 While the 1960s and 1970s saw a tremendous increase in historical studies relating to urbanization, offerings slowed in the 1980s. The "job crisis" in history had devastating consequences. Many of the first scholars with formal training in urban history found it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain academic positions. A large number went into other fields, became college administrators, or left academia altogether. This set urban history back at a time when an increasing emphasis on urbanization as a process seemed to promise new breakthroughs.

In the 1960s, directions taken by a number of Ivy League historians generated an unexpected controversy. Some of them saw urban history as a way to enumerate aspects of the American past that they found undesirable. All used quantitative techniques, making pioneering use of manuscript census data. A few placed a blind faith in census definitions of occupations--especially that for the catchall term laborers--formulated by Gilded Age federal bureaucrats. The practitioners of the pretentiously named New Urban History produced numerous social mobility studies aimed at studying the lower classes. Not surprisingly, their books and articles proved that untrained and poorly educated workers in factory towns had trouble getting ahead. Even though a few excellent books resulted, the quantitative and frequently relativistic approach of the practitioners of the 8New Urban History clouded the origins of academic urban history in general. Many other historians came to equate urban history with quantification

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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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