Fighting Words: The Significance of the American West in the History of the United States

William Deverell

in A New Significance

Published in print January 1997 | ISBN: 9780195100471
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199854059 | DOI:
Fighting Words: The Significance of the American West in the History of the United States

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The American West plays an immense role in shaping and explaining American history. This truism has been molded into a popular understanding that the West—particularly the story of 19th-century frontiering—remains heroically detached from anywhere and anytime else in the nation and the nation's past. Companion to this “tyranny of the frontier” is a notion that the remote, heroicized West is itself more representative of national character than any other chronological or regional chapter in the text of popularized American history. Western historians need to re-envision the West through a more sophisticated understanding of power, particularly that wielded by the state, and the ways in which power fills space on the western conceptual landscape. Power is being chased from its obvious and less obvious hiding places, particularly by scholars engaged in arenas within and across categories of race, class, gender, and environment. This chapter closes with a suggestion that historians need to think more about addressing power through the prism of dependence and independence, especially by using a concept borrowed from legal studies, the ward/guardian relationship.

Keywords: American West; history; frontier; power; race; class; gender; environment; ward/guardian relationship

Chapter.  17923 words. 

Subjects: Methods and Historiography

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