Chapter

A Place of Extremes: Nature, History, and the American West

Susan Rhoades Neel

in A New Significance

Published in print January 1997 | ISBN: 9780195100471
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199854059 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195100471.003.0004
A Place of Extremes: Nature, History, and the American West

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For the most part, the new western history takes as its starting point the idea that the American West is a specific, identifiable place and that western history is properly the story of how that region was formed and reproduced over time through the interaction of diverse cultures with each other and with nature. Regionalism, of course, is nothing new to western history. Walter Prescott Webb made the case for a regional approach in his classic 1931 study The Great Plains. Webb began with what he believed any westerner knew—that the West was different. For the latest cadre of historians determined to wrest western history from the vice of Frederick Jackson Turner, regionalism's greatest appeal is as a counterparadigm to the frontier thesis. From this contest between nature and colonist emerged a unique American character and a distinctive political culture—what Turner saw as those most American of sensibilities: individualism and democracy.

Keywords: western history; American West; nature; regionalism; Walter Prescott Webb; Frederick Jackson Turner; individualism; democracy

Chapter.  13615 words. 

Subjects: Methods and Historiography

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