American Frontiers

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American Frontiers
Hauptseminar R. Stinshoff Di 16-18 A 1 - 0 – 004

Preliminary class outline

Of the many frontiers there are in American history and culture this class will deal with the western or trans-Mississippi frontier; it will be organised into a first part, during which we will explore and discuss the historiographical concept of frontier and its recent revisions, and a second part during which you will present your research on individual topics taken from frontier history and culture for discussion in class. The list below contains a number of suggestions, you are, however, perfectly free to use your own favorite.

Important: Your presentation should focus on how your topic relates (historically, culturally) to the notion of the frontier and in which way this concept is needed to understand the text, film etc you’ve been working on.

In the first meeting we’ll discuss presentation style (and its evaluation), which always will involve the other students in class, and we will nail down your choice of project.

Meetings 1 – 2: Oct 24, 31

Introducing the concept: Walt Whitman, O Pioneers; Frederick Jackson Turner, The Significance of the Frontier in American History. These texts will be included in my collection of reading material available from the English Department’s office (Ms Severin) by early September.

Meeting 3: Nov 7

Reading by the Native American poet Carter Revard; you can prepare for that by going to, there you’ll find many biographical details and a link to SAIL (= Studies in Native American Literature) vol 15, No 1, spring 2003; this (online) issue of SAIL is wholly devoted to Carter Revard’s work.

Meeting 4-6: Nov 14, 21, 28

“The Legacy of Conquest”: New Western history and the concept of frontier

Reading material beyond Patricia Nelson Limerick’s book The Legacy of Conquest will be available from the departemental office (Ms Severin) by early September.

Meeting 7-12: Dec 5, 12, 19, Jan 9, 16, 23

Presentation of student research projects. Here is a list of potential topics:

  • novels: by 'classic' western/regional authors like Owen Wister, Willa Cather, O.E. Rölvaag, Hamlin Garland, Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, Laura Ingalls Wilder etc. to contemporary ones like Wallace Stegner, A.B.Guthrie, Norman Maclean, Larry McMurtry, Pete Dexter, Larry Watson, Dan O’Brien, Native American novelists, e.g. N.Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan; James Welch, Louise Erdrich…, or
  • travellogues: e.g. Dayton Duncan, Miles from Nowhere, Ian Frazier, Great Plains, Jonathan Raban, Badland, or

  • short stories such as Bret Harte, The Luck of Roaring Camp (and/or other stories by him), Hamlin Garland, Under the Lion’s Paw; Mari Sandoz, Winter Thunder; Dan O’Brien, Eminent Domain; Louise Erdrich, American Horse; on the reserve shelf there are many more wonderful stories to be found in the anthologies edited by John Tuska or William Kittredge, or in Roger Welsch’s collection of his own stories It’s Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See It from Here;

  • personal memoirs then and now: e.g. Elinore Pruitt Stewart, Letters of a Woman Homesteader; Walker D. Wyman (ed.), Frontier Woman, the Life of a Woman Homesteader on the Dakota Frontier; Annick Smith, Homestead; Linda Hasselstrom, Windbreak, a Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains; Carrie Young, Nothing to Do But Stay, My Pioneer Mother;
  • films (e.g. Heartland, Country, A River Runs Through It, Dances with Wolves, Thunderheart, Smoke Signals, The Horse Whisperer to name just a few examples, or your favourite or most disliked western movie/documentary,

  • characters: Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, or

  • seminal events and conflicts: such as the Lewis and Clark expedition or later explorations of the West, the overland migrations, the battle of the Little Bighorn, the Johnson County War, the Black Hills case, or

  • western music or music about the West: anything between and beyond, let’s say Johnny Cash and Floyd Westerman, or

  • environmental issues such as land use, water & aridity, or

  • last not least… scholarly issues like ‘violence and the frontier myth’, topics from new western history…

Meeting 13, 14: Jan 30, Feb 6

Overspill & evaluation

Material: There will be a well-stocked reserve shelf in the library, and for films you’d like to have a look in the library’s mediothek or talk to me.

Before you give up on any of your ideas, let’s talk about it because I happen to have some (textual, visual, film) material myself.

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