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The Significance of the Frontier Thesis in American Economic History
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Essay about Turner Thesis Summary - Words | Bartleby
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Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Cite Citation. While illegal immigration is not an issue isolated to the history of the American West, the immigrants moved predominantly into California, Texas and the American Southwest. Like Anglo settlers who were attracted to the West for the potential for new life in the nineteenth century, illegal immigrants continued to move in during the twentieth. Impossible Subjects describes four groups of illegal immigrants Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese and Mexican braceros who were created by the United States immigration policy.
Ngai specifically examines the role that the government played in defining, controlling and disciplining these groups for their allegedly illegal misconduct. Impossible Subjects is not a book on the American West, but it is a book that is very much about the American West.
The American West is relevant to her study only because it was where most of the illegal immigrants described in her story lived and worked. Additionally, it is not a story of conquest and its consequences, but it introduced the American public and scholars to members of the American society that are silent.
Limerick, p. Environmental history has become an increasingly important component of the history of the American West. Originally, the American West was seen as an untamed wilderness, but over time that description has changed.
Frederick Jackson Turner
Two conceptually different, but nonetheless important books on environmental history discussed the American West and its importance in America. Cronon examined the formation of Chicago and the importance of its commodities market for the development of the American West. Alternatively, Worster focuses on the creation of an extensive network of government subsidized dams in the early twentieth century.
Rivers of Empire describes that despite the aridity of the natural landscape the American West became home to massive commercial farms and enormous swaths of urban sprawl. Johann Heinrich von Thunen developed the central place theory to explain the development of cities. Essentially, geographically different economic zones form in concentric circles the farther you went from the city. These different zones form because of the time it takes to get the different types of goods to market. Closest to the city and then moving away you would have the following zones: first, intensive agriculture, second, extensive agriculture, third, livestock raising, fourth, trading, hunting and Indian trade and finally, you would have the wilderness.
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By emphasizing the connection between the city of Chicago and the rural lands that surrounded it, Cronon was able to explain how the land, including the West, developed. Cronon argued that the development of Chicago had a profound influence on the development and appearance of the Great West. Essentially Cronon used the creation of the Chicago commodities and trading markets to explain how different parts of the Mid-West and West produced different types of resources and fundamentally altered their ecology.
Worster argued that the United States wanted to continue creating family farms for Americans in the West. Unfortunately, the aridity of the west made that impossible. The land in the West simply could not be farmed without water. Instead of adapting to the natural environment, the United States government embarked on the largest dam building project in human history. The government built thousands of dams to irrigate millions of acres of land. Unfortunately, the cost of these numerous irrigation projects was enormous.
The federal government passed the cost on to the buyers of the land which prevented family farmers from buying it. Therefore, instead of family farms, massive commercial farms were created. The only people who could afford to buy the land were wealthy citizens. The massive irrigation also permitted the creation of cities which never would have been possible without it.
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Worster argues that the ensuing ecological damage to the West has been extraordinary. The natural environment throughout the region was dramatically altered. The west is now the home of oversized commercial farms, artificial reservoirs which stretch for hundreds of miles, rivers that run only on command and sprawling cities which depend on irrigation. Both Cronon and Worster described how commercial interests shaped the landscape and ecology of the American West, but their approaches were very different. Still, each work fits comfortably into the new western history. Both Cronon and Worster see the West as a place and not as a movement of westward expansion.
Cronon re-orders the typical understanding of the sequence of westward expansion. Instead of describing the steady growth of rural communities which transformed into cities, he argued that cities and rural areas formed at the same time.