The area of the earth's surface chosen for this study is that part of the United States designated usually as the Trane-Mississippi West. In its natural state, the feature that gave character to most of the landscape, in contrast with the area east of the Mississippi river, was the vegetational cover of grass rather than forest. Incidentally, the term natural state, as used here, means the condition in which it was found by the European at the opening of the sixteenth century. This rules out of direct consideration the condition of the continent at different periods of geological time, or of anthropological time.
The method employed in the study of this chosen area recognizes the ecological, agronomical, pedological, and geographical factors that provide the areal setting for its history. The sciences bring to the aid of the historian new tools and new methods whose possibilities have been little explored. One purpose of this book is to bring together summaries of the literature in the several borderland fields that seem significant to history, and to give them some application to this specific problem. There is no attempt here to present a formal history of the grassland of North America. There are many works in which aspects of that history are well treated, and, for present purposes, there is no point in mere restatement of such material. The things put into this book are those that seem most pertinent to the main purpose; new methodology, different points of view or emphasis, syntheses of materials not hitherto brought to bear upon this field of history, and some illustrative products of original research. From one point of view, the book may be considered as a series of essays on historiography, materials, and methods, together with sample case studies. A book on fuel and housing in the grassland, as well as other studies, will continue the theme. At some future time, a formal history of the area, based upon these broader considerations, may be in order.
Other aspects of general historiography and of methodology have been discussed in Essays on Historiography (Privately printed, Lawrence, 1946). These two books were originally a single project completed in 1945. The advisability of the separation into two books need not be debated here, but for perspective on some of the terminology used in the present book, attention is called to the Essays. Among other things, the third and fourth of the essays introduce the problem of the adaptation to social theory by physical scientists of certain terminology and concepts of quantum physics. In physics, the behavior of the individual particle is treated as . . .