The Transformation of Frontiers

Dr. Spero has used new technology to track two significant changes to the way Americans perceived of frontiers in early America.

First, in the spring 2012, Dr. Spero taught a course on “Frontiers in Early America.”  As a class project, teams of students searched for reports on frontiers in ten year increments in the early American newspaper database from about 1700 to 1850. They then created an animated map that depicts the shifting location of areas called frontiers in the North America.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the map is the importance of geography.  The frontiers in the 1750s, for instance, abutted the Appalachian Mountains, while frontiers followed the path of the Ohio in the 1800s, and finally it followed the north-south course of the Mississippi.

Second, in Frontier CountrySpero shows in his conclusion how most Americans spoke of “frontiers” in the plural throughout the eighteenth century, but over the course of the nineteenth century increasingly preferred the singular “frontier.”  Spero argues that this shift followed the growth of the nation-state.

For more on these findings and the graphs he produced, see Spero’s Conclusion of Frontier Country.

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