Economic Development of the
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,