American Frontier and Western Issues: A Historiographical Review

By Roger L. Nichols | Go to book overview

It is important for historians to work toward a better understanding of the urban frontier. Cities were crucial to the settlement experience. As a process, urban development was part of a larger framework that shaped the national heritage. Spirited rivalries, such as New York versus other major northeastern cities and Chicago versus St. Louis, many of which continued long after the passing of the frontier, remained a constant in the evolution of American urban centers. The rise of metropolises ultimately shaped a twentieth-century form of American regionalism--a "Sun Belt" stretching in a great arch from Virginia through the Gulf States and on into the vast Trans-Mississippi West. Certainly, just as Turner contended, the Western urban movement has helped to shape the way in which Americans have perceived one another and their problems. The 1984 presidential election illustrated great differences between urban dwellers throughout the country. One result was that people in the Sun Belt communities rejected the notion that they should help to pay welfare costs for their counterparts in the Northeast. Here, for better or for worse, was a story as old as urban America. Views in the West--seen as either "radical" or "conservative," depending on the time and place--clashed with East Coast "liberalism." The literature about Western cities, no matter how diverse in form, demonstrates a continuity between the frontier experience and later progress.

The need for further research is obvious from any survey of the literature of the moving urban frontier. Every area of investigation requires more study. What exists--even in areas such as frontier violence and the significance of New England villages--is fragmentary. Hardly anything, except for a few studies on prostitutes, touches on urban Westering women.33 Generalizations on urban pioneering have been made in an ethnic study here and an urban biography there. Many articles on city building were not written with an urban frontier in mind. They only require inclusion in a survey of urban frontier literature because of the paucity of data. Any conclusions about the nature of the urban frontier, from coast to coast, remain highly suggestive. Yet two consistent themes emerge from the recent literature: there has been little innovation and the urban frontier should not be considered by traditional standards. Clearly urbanization dictates a different approach.


NOTES
1.
Charles N. Glaab and A. Theodore Brown, A History of Urban America ( New York: Macmillan, 1967).
2.
One reviewer called Wade's thesis "a striking but empty piece of rhetoric" Vernon Carstensen, reviewing Richard C. Wade, The Union Frontier: The Rise of Western Cities, 1790-1830 ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959), in Wisconsin Magazine of History 43 (Spring 1960): 229-30.
3.
Oliver Knight, "Toward an Understanding of the Western Town", Western Historical Quarterly 4 ( January 1973): 27-42.
4.
Ray Allen Billington and Martin Ridge, Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier, 5th ed. ( New York: Macmillan, 1982); Richard A. Bartlett, The NewCountry: A Social History of the American Frontier, 1776-1890

-82-

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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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