Disaggregating the polity: frontier culture

[UPDATE: clarifying definitions. In the paper below, the frontier is by definition very sparsely settled. Also, “Greater Appalachia” as Woodard uses the term describes the Scots-Irish who gradually spread westward, not simply people born in what we now call Appalachia]

Samuel Bazziy, Martin Fiszbeinz, and Mesay Gebresilasse write,

In our simple conceptual framework, the significance of the frontier can be explained by three factors. First, frontier locations attracted individualists able to thrive in harsh conditions. Second, the frontier experience, characterized by isolation and low population density, further promoted the development of self-reliance. At the same time, favorable prospects for upward mobility through effort nurtured hostility to redistribution. Finally, frontier populations affected local culture at a critical juncture, thus leaving a lasting imprint.

Pointer from Tyler Cowen.

My immediate reaction is to interpret this using Colin Woodard’s 11-nations model, in which he divides the U.S. into cultural sub-nations. The nation most likely to seek out the frontier would be Greater Appalachia. The other migratory nations that settled the west were Yankeedom, which was very community-oriented and would have avoided the frontier, and Midlands, which also preferred to live in towns or farming communities, rather than in isolated frontier settlements. The political and cultural description that Bazziy and co-authors give to frontier-influenced populations does seem to fit the Greater Appalachia Jacksonian model.

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3 Responses to Disaggregating the polity: frontier culture

  1. collin says:

    The nation most likely to seek out the frontier would be Greater Appalachia.

    Wouldn’t that be true decades ago and possibly no longer true? I would get Alaska and mountain states (ID, MT) as more current frontier cultures but the area of Great Appalachia has not been on the frontier in last 70 years. Additionally, the potential frontier populations in Appalachia has long since moved away from the area. Long term term culture changes. Living in California for most of the last 37 years, I have notice move away from Reagan suburban dream with a tinge of frontier culture towards more of weird combination of:

    1) Very tech, urban, and hard working Asian cultures. (The impact of Asian-Americans in California is vastly under-rated.)
    2) A Latino communities working and playing together.

    No wonder VDH hates current California

  2. Charles W. Abbott says:

    Yankeedom went to the frontier because it was full. Methinks (I’m not certain) Yankee community institutions were copied further west, such as Ohio’s Western Reserve and on much farther. The “push” was lack of good land at home, and not enough land for sons. The “pull” was better land, cheaper land, west all the the way from Upstate New York at least to Iowa. Land with clear title at 1/10 the cost of the land back home.

    BTW, the geographer D.W. Meinig’s 4 volume history of North America would have good details. I recall seeing statistics on the property value gradients in Lebergott.

    = – = – = – = – =

    Prof. Arnold, I’m just thinking off the top of my head, but it seems like you are at risk of confusing the material incentives for migration with the cultural motifs that lead to comfort with migration, after the fact.

    The Scots Irish “borderers” were indeed comfortable being on the frontier, and in settings of continual hazard.

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