by Laurie Kovacovic

The Frontier has long been a prominent symbol of American culture. But what exactly does it say about our culture, and what precisely is/was the frontier?
These questions, along with the mystique of the frontier, sparked my interest in the subject of the frontier. The works gathered in this bibliography will hopefully aid other students interested in the history and present condition of the frontier, and its affects on American culture.

Frontier scholarship began in 1893, when Frederick Jackson Turner gave his landmark speech "The Significance of the Frontier in American History". This speech laid the foundation for future discussion about the frontier, and one hundred years later is still the piece of comparison for new theories. Turner's work was followed by several other famous frontier theories throughout the first three quarters of the twentieth century. I have joined these together to represent the classic statements of frontier theory. The first part of the bibliography focuses on these works by the likes of Turner, Ray Allen Billington, Herbert Eugene Bolton, and Walter Prescott Webb.

Turner's thesis emphasized the significance the frontier had in shaping the American character. The second part of the bibliography continues to address the questions of national identity and shared characteristics which can be attributed to the frontier. These essays and books explore both how the frontier experience can and can not account for the immensely ambiguous American character.

The third part of the bibliography concentrates on the "new" school of frontier theory, commonly referred to as history of the "New West". The majority of this scholarship has developed over the last twenty five years. These articles and books emphasize the previously invisible and/or misrepresented participants of the American Frontier such as women, African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans. There is much discussion concerning the complexity and diversity of frontier experiences. "New West" scholarship takes a microscopic view of the variety of lands and peoples involved in what had previously been described as a very general and uniform frontier. The historians of the "New West" critically review prior and present Western/frontier history in an attempt to write the most inclusive, accurate, and sensitive stories possible.

The fourth part of the bibliography deals with how the frontier can be seen in pop culture, the West, mythic dimensions, and altogether unexpected ways, and how it continues to hold influence over the American people. From space exploration, to movies, to advertisements, the frontier is a powerful and alluring symbol. Also, the frontier has become a mythical time and place, to the point where it is difficult to distinguish history from myth. This last section will hopefully provide the reader with some quirky, and well written essays which will not only expand the horizons of the frontier, but entertain and amuse as well.

In order to simplify research, I have included the UMD library call number for every book listed here. This bibliography is not exhaustive; there is far too much information about the frontier to review much less record it all, but hopefully the entries here will facilitate some rewarding excursions into the frontier.

PART I - the classic statements

Bannon, John Francis., ed. Bolton and the Spanish Borderlands. Norman: Oklahoma UP, 1968. E123.B69

This book is a collection of many of Herbert Eugene Bolton's writings. He was one of the first historians to go beyond the Anglo frontier studied by Turner, and specialized in the "Borderlands" region (the areas of Spanish occupation, where another frontier movement had already occurred). These essays expanded on the frontier being studied at the time and opened up an entirely new set of variables that shaped the American frontier.

Billington, Ray Allen. America's Frontier Heritage. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP, 1974. E179.5 B62

Billington re-examines Turner's thesis which claims American identity is born from its frontier heritage. He asserts that the frontier experience remains a major contributor to national identity, although less so than in the past.

Bolton, Herbert E. Wider Horizons of American History. Notre Dame: Notre Dame UP, 1939. E18.B75 1967.

As a student of Frederick Jackson Turner, Herbert Bolton went on to study the frontier, adding the dimension of the Spanish conquest to the previously Anglo-American based history of the frontier. The essays in this book address Spanish influence in the borderlands of the American frontier.

Jacobs, Wilbur R., John W. Caughey, and Joe B. Franz. Turner, Bolton, and Webb: Three Historians of the American Frontier. Seattle: Washington UP, 1965. E175.45 .J3

This book offers a nice introduction to the differing theories of Turner, Bolton, and Webb. While largely biographical, the short essays reveal much about the theories and the mindsets which promoted them.

Taylor, George Rogers., ed. The Turner Thesis: Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1972. E169.1 .P897

A collection of essays, by major frontier scholars, debating Turner's thesis and its impact on twentieth-century America.

Turner, Frederick Jackson. "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." American Historical Association. Chicago Worlds Fair. Chicago, 12 July 1893. E 179.5.T958 1966

Turner's landmark speech which laid the foundation for future scholarship concerning the frontier. Also known as the "Turner thesis."

Webb, Walter Prescott. The Great Frontier. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1952. CB 245.W4

Webb views the American frontier as a four hundred year experience, which not only shaped the American, but also influenced the whole of Western civilization through the land and capitol it provided. He claims the now closed frontier "changed the destiny of mankind".

PART II - the frontier and national identity


Bassin, Mark. "Turner, Solov'ev, and the 'Frontier Hypothesis': The Nationalist Signification of Open Spaces." Journal of Modern History. 65.3 (1993): 473-511.

While Turner is the father of U.S. frontier inquiry, Bassin compares his work with Solov'ev, Turner's unrecognized Russian counterpart. The ways and reasons in which Turner and Solov'ev used frontier lands and experience to explain national development are explored.

Gabriel, Ralph H. "History and the America Past." American Perspectives: The National Self Image in the Twentieth Century. Eds. Spillar, Robert E., and Eric Larrabee. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961.

Gabriel attributes the uniqueness of American character to not only the frontier, but the notion of plenty, which includes urban areas in addition to frontier lands.

Riley, Glenda. "Airbrushing Western History (Eliminating the notion of 'frontier' in Western History)." Journal of the West. 31.4 (1992): 3-5.

A short essay that claims the notion of frontier is useful and important in understanding our history and ourselves. To add the missing stories of the frontier would be more productive than eliminating the use of frontier theory.


Lipset, Seymour Martin. Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1990. E169.1 L545 1991x

Lipset recognizes the differences in each country's frontier history, and how the symbols and values from their respective frontiers have uniquely influenced each culture.

Merck, Frederick. Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation. New York: Knopf, 1963. E179.5.M4

An investigation into the American ideologies of Manifest Destiny and Mission, and their significance in American expansionism. Merck claims that a sense of mission was "truer expression of national spirit" than Manifest Destiny.

Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven: Yale UP, 1967. E169.1 .N37 1982

A history of wilderness in the United States and its importance in shaping the American. Wilderness and frontier are closely linked, at times overlapping.

Potter, David, M. People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1954. E169.1.P6

Of special interest is chapter VII, "Abundance and the Frontier". Potter writes about how the frontier did and did not attribute to national characteristics like individualism, social mobility, democracy, and industrialization.

Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier In Twentieth-Century America. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. E169.12.S57 1992b

A very thorough examination into the myth of the American frontier and how it has perpetuated itself in twentieth-century United States culture. The book traces the presence and impact of the mythical frontier "in shaping the life, thought, and politics of the nation".

Susman, Warren I. Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century. New York: Pantheon Books, 1973. E169.1.S9733 1984

Discusses the debatable impact the frontier had on developing twentieth-century culture. Frontier symbols represent both good and bad characteristics. Claims that Turner's thesis has become useless as have many subsequent theses.

Taylor, George Rogers., ed. The Turner Thesis: Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History. E169.1 .P897

A collection of essays, by major frontier scholars, debating Turner's thesis and its impact on twentieth-century America.

Terrie, Philip G. "Wilderness: Ambiguous Symbol of the American Past." Dominant Symbols in Popular Culture. eds. Browne, Fishwick, and Browne. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1990. E169.12 .D59 1990

Terrie observes the duality in American perspectives towards wilderness and frontier space. The divergence in opinions about the wilderness suggests confusion in society about who we are.

PART III - history of the "New West"


American Quarterly. ed. Johnson, David A. "Special Issue: American Culture and the American Frontier." 33.5 (1981).

This issue is dedicated to exploring the cultural affects of the American Frontier. Articles include: "Savage, Sinner, and Saved: Davy Crockett, Camp Meetings, and the Wild Frontier" by Catherine L. Albanese, "The Cherokee Nation: Mirror of the Republic" by Mary Young, "Economic Development and Native American Women in the Early Nineteenth Century" by Mary C. Wright, "History from the Inside-Out: Writing the History of Women in Rural America" by John Mack Faragher, "Vigilance and the Law: The Moral Authority of Popular Justice in the Far West" by David A. Johnson, "The Trans-Mississippian International Exposition: 'To Work Out the Problem of Universal Civilization'", by Robert Rydell, and "Nostalgia and Progress: Theodore Roosevelt's Myth of the Frontier" by Richard Slotkin.

Armitage, Susan. "Women and Men in Western History: A Stereoptical Vision." Western Historical Quarterly. 16.4 (1985): 380-395.

In an effort to contribute to new western history, Armitage argues that western history should be looked at through the eyes of both women and men. The general image of the West would change, becoming less sensational, and more concerned with adaptation.

Aron, Stephan. "Lessons in Conquest: Towards a Greater Western History." Pacific Historical Review. 63.2 (1994): 125-47.

New Western historians seem only to be concerned with rewriting frontier history for the plains and westward. However, the frontier once included the trans-Appalachian West, and other Eastern regions. Their development is crucial in understanding subsequent frontier progress. A new frontier history that applies to all Americans, not just those living in the ever-ambiguous West, needs to be written.

Horn, Miriam. "How the West Was Really Won." U.S. News & World Report. 21 May 1990: 56-65.

A general look at the development of Western history. New historians and their new theories are contrasted with Turner's thesis.

Kolodny, Annette. "Letting Go Our Grand Obsessions: Notes Towards a New Literary History of the American Frontiers." American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism and Bibliography. 64.1 (1992): 1-18.

Kolodny asserts that in order to understand our culture, all texts dealing with first contact should be included as frontier literature. Norse sagas to Tex-mex writings make up the multilingual, multiplicite stories of the frontier, which includes "'wilderness', agricultural, urban, and industrial" settings.

Limerick, Patricia Nelson. "Turnerians All: The Dream of a Helpful History in an Intelligible world." American Historical Review. 100.3 (1995) 697-717.

A critique of Turner's frontier thesis noting the contradictions within itself and the absence of Indian contributions. Limerick recognizes the current popularity of Turner's thesis, but also proposes the emergence of a new urban/industrial, diverse, frontier thesis.

Malone, Michael P. "Beyond the Last Frontier: Toward a New Approach to Western American History." Western Historical Quarterly. 20.4 (1989): 409-27.

Malone argues that a new paradigm should be developed to study "the West." It should be based on regional features such as aridity, reliance on federal government, aura of the frontier experience,dependency on extractive industries, and surge in multi-ethnic population. The frontier did not simply "close", and that must be understood.

Nobles, Gregory H. "Straight Lines and Stability: Mapping the Political Order of the Anglo-American Frontier." Journal of American History. 80.1 (1993): 9-36.

Nobles shows how mapping was a tool for shaping the early frontier. Euro-American maps, which simply ignored the existence of many people and presumed ownership of already occupied lands, were saved as documents and which portrayed a popular, but flawed image of the frontier.

Person, Leland S. Jr. "The American Eve: Miscegenation and a Feminist Frontier Fiction." American Quarterly. 37.5 (1985): 668-685.

Examines literature of the early frontier written by women. The writings illustrate different attitudes towards the frontier which were overshadowed by the predominance of fiction written by men.

Robbins, William G. "Western History: A Dialectic on the Modern Condition." The Western Historical Quarterly. 20.4 (1989): 429-449.

While much of the article dwells on then recent debates among Western historians, Robbins also proposes to study the West "as a prototype for modern capitalism".

Szasz, Ferenc M. "The Clergy and the Myth of the American West." Church History. 59.4 (1990): 497-506.

While clergy played an important role in the progress of the frontier and settlement of the West, they are largely left out of the "mythical" West and frontier heritage. Szasz primarily attributes this to the variety of different denominations present on the frontier. This emphasized a division amongst people rather than a shared story.

Underwood, June O. "Western Women and True Womanhood: Culture and Symbol in History and Literature." Great Plains Quarterly. 5.2 (1985): 93-106.

Underwood addresses the absence of women from western history and literature. She demonstrates some of the roles and responsibilities pioneer women had, and advises that the black-out on complete depictions of women end.

Weber, David J. "Turner, the Boltonians, and the Borderlands." American Historical Review. 91.1 (1986): 66-81.

Many historians have tried to apply Turner's thesis to the Borderlands (Southwest U.S., Northern Mexico), but it does not apply to Mexican culture as it does to American. The American frontier heritage is distinct from the frontier heritage of Mexico which unites with the U.S. in the borderlands region.

Worster, Donald. "New West, True West: Interpreting the Region's History." Western Historical Quarterly. 18.2 (1987): 140-58.

In his essay, Worster claims the main characteristic of the West is aridity. He views the West as a settled, developed area influenced primarily by lack of water resources.

Wunder, John R. "What's Old About the New Western History: Race and Gender Part I." Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 85.2 (1994): 50-58.

While "New Western History" attempts to be more inclusive than older historical approaches, especially Turner's, Wunder claims that it is only in a transitional phase. The new histories are still exclusionary, and many of them use old models. There are many good examples given.


Duetsh, Sarah. No Separate Refuge: Culture, Class, and Gender on the Anglo-Hispanic Frontier in the American Southwest, 1880-1940. New York: Oxford UP, 1987. F785.M5 D48 1987

No Separate Refuge closely observes regional Chicano communities in Colorado and New Mexico and the Hispanic and Anglo influences on their intra and inter-cultural dynamics. Special attention is paid to the changing roles of women in these communities.

Kolodny, Annette. The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860. Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1984. E179.5.K64 1984

An examination of white, women pioneers and their response to the land. The frontier, for many, became a place to cultivate gardens and domesticity.

Malone, Michael P., and Richard W. Etulain. The American West: A Twentieth-Century History. Lincoln: Nebraska UP, 1989. F595.M3 1989

A modern history of the West (West of the ninety-eighth meridian) which compares and contrasts its similarities and differences with the rest of the country. Shows the West as a continually changing, dynamic, and diverse place. Does not rely solely on the frontier or wilderness to characterize the region.

White, Richard. It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West. Norman: Oklahoma UP, 1991. F591.W69 1993.

White's book is a comprehensive look at the frontier and the West from a modern perspective. It is a key work for "New West" historian. It's Your Own Misfortune is well organized with many maps, pictures, and figures. It is a very useful reference.

Worster, Donald. An Unsettled Country: Changing Landscapes of the American West. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP, 1994. F591.W876

Worster explores the effects the varied and changing nature of the West had upon its inhabitants. He claims the West, as a cultural area, is not just the product of political, economic, and cultural influence, but most importantly of the natural environment. Since the West of today and the past is looked upon as a synonym for, or the closest reflection of, our frontier history, we can better understand the frontier through studying the West and its many landscapes.

PART IV - popular culture, myth and the miscellaneous


Baltensperger, Bradley H. "Plains Boomers and the Creation of the Great American Desert Myth." Journal of Historical Geography. 18.1 (1992) 59-73.

Even though the Great Plains were not a desert region, settlers embraced the characterization of the Plains as desert. This accentuated the heroism and wisdom in settling the frontier.

Black, Brian. "The Legacy of the Lands: Linking the Frontier to Contemporary America Through Film." Journal of the West. 31.1 1992): 100-108.

Black links American capitalism to frontier films, especially The Red River and Giant. The films chronicle the development of frontier capitalism and the transition from Old West to New West, from generation to generation.

Blake, Kevin S. "Zane Grey and Images of the American West." The Geographical Review. 85.2 (1995): 202-17.

Blake shows how Zane Grey wrote fiction of the mythical western frontier (land of hero cowboys, noble Indians, etc.) set in the first third of the twentieth century. This aided popular belief that the mythical frontier was not only real, but that is was contemporary as well.

Cho, Erin. "Lincoln Logs: Toying with the Frontier Myth." History Today. Apr. 1993: 31-34.

A British view of Lincoln Logs, and how they represented Americans' urge to recapture the frontier in times of growing urbanization.

Daly, David, and Joel Persky. "The West and the Western." Journal of the West. 29.2 (1990): 3-64.

An in depth look at the role myth and mythical figures play in the popularity of the West in general, and western movies in particular. Discusses why the west is continuously celebrated, despite periodic slumps and surges in the popularity of western film.

Ellis, Reuben J. "The American Frontier and the Contemporary Real Estate Advertising Magazine." Journal of Popular Culture. 27.3 (1993): 119-33.

Contrary to Turner's assertion, the frontier has never been closed, completely. Real Estate ad magazines are a perfect example of how the occupation of the frontier is an on-going process.

Martin, Susan K. "Go (Further) West, Young Man: The New (True Blue) Frontier of the American Imagination." North Dakota Quarterly. 60.1 (1992):180-98.

The American notion of frontier has been imposed on Australia because of its appropriate environmental and geographical location (dry, sparsely populated, and offering an "open" West). Examines the Australian/American frontier in advertisements.

Savage, William W. Jr. "Jazz and the American Frontier Experience: Turner, Webb, and the Oklahoma City Blue Devils." Journal of the West. 28.3 (1989): 32-35.

Shows how an Oklahoma jazz band during the 1920's and 1930's can provide valuable insight into the realm of the American Frontier.

Schechter, Harold, and Jonna G. Semeiks. "Leatherstocking in 'Nam: Rambo, Platoon, and the American Frontier Myth." Journal of Popular Culture. 24.4 (1991): 17-25.

Examines how the frontier myth has been played out in popular late twentieth-century films such as Rambo and Platoon.

Shively, JoEllen. "Cowboys and Indians: Perceptions of Western Films among American Indians and Anglos." American Sociological Review. 57.6 (1992): 725-34.

A sociological study of Native American and Anglo men, and their perceptions of western film. Explores the different reasons each group enjoys westerns.


Carpenter, Ronald H. "America's Tragic Metaphor: Our Twentieth-Century Combatants As Frontiersmen." Quarterly Journal of Speech. 76.1 (1990): 1-22.

An anthropological look at the use of the U.S. frontier experience as a metaphor for U.S. soldiers in foreign wars.

Klein, Kerwin. "Frontier Tales: The Narrative Construction of Cultural Borders in Twentieth-Century California." Comparative Studies in Society and History 34.3 (1992): 464-90.

An essay which specifically examines the relationship between Cauhilla Indians and the newcomer Anglo settlers in the Palm Springs area. The Indians became an attraction for tourists who wished to see them before their culture would disappear as predicted.

"Frontier Products: Tourism, Consumerism, and the Southwestern Public Lands, 1890-1990." Pacific Historical Review. 62.1 (1993): 39-71.

An excellent essay which traces the transformation of the West (specifically Arizona) from "real" frontier to a "frontier playground" through the preservation of public wilderness lands. References to Zane Grey, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, and of course, Frederick Jackson Turner.

Sanderson, Jim. "The Twentieth Century Frontier in Odessa, Texas: Bar Stools and Pulpits." Journal of American Culture. 10.4 (1987): 31-31.

A well written essay about West Texas and it's conflicting traits of frontierism and fundamentalism.

Stoeltje, Beverly J. "Making the Frontier Myth: Folklore Process in a Modern Nation." Western Folklore. 46.4 (1987) 235-253.

Stoeltje looks at the frontier from the eyes of a folklorist. The myth that is represented in the frontier has been adapted to the new frontier of outer space. She does a nice job explaining that the myth of the frontier is based on real people and places, but mythologized by people from the East, like Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wister, and Frederick Remington.

Weiss, Harold J., Jr. "Western Lawmen: Image and Reality." Journal of the West. 24.1 (1985): 23-32.

Weiss explores the fact and fiction which cloud the reality of violence in the west, and the character of law enforcement officers.


Nash, Gerald D. The American West Transformed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985. HC107.A17 N37 1985

Nash examines the impact of World War II on the American West. He views changes in economics, population, diversity, etc. in the West as a continuation of frontier forces influenced by the war.

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© 1997, Laurie Kovacovic