Friday, October 2, 2009

Bookends Friday: Frontier cities

Fifty years ago historian Richard Wade published The Urban Frontier: The Rise of Western Cities 1790-1830, in which he argued that "The towns were the spearheads of the frontier" in the 19th century US, not the isolated coonskin-capped frontiersmen. Specifically he wrote about how Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington, and St. Louis were key to the settlement of the Ohio River valley and farther west. This month the Indiana Magazine of History commemorates the book with five essays from later generations of historians about Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, and Indianapolis -- commending, critiquing, and extending Wade's thesis. "Rarely," writes David S. Stradling, "does a single book so quickly and thoroughly change the way historians think."

Ahem. I like to think of myself as a history buff (it's what I should have majored in) and an advocate for genealogists to be more historically aware. I think I had heard of Wade's, er, trailblazing book before, but I have never read it. And, frankly, when I'm not paying attention, I find it hard to remember that those five cities were laid out before their hinterlands were settled. We all have a lot of dubious history to unlearn. I'm adding this fifty-year-old book to my list; its high time for it to "quickly and thoroughly change" the way genealogists think too.

2 comments:

Claire said...

Book sounds interesting. Thanks for mentioning it.

Debbie V. said...

Harold,
Thanks for the encouragement to read more history - I've put this book on reserve at our local library (New Albany - Floyd County Public Library [Indiana])
You probably remember my name - I am a descendant Elizabeth Starr Robertson Woods, mother of Minerva Robertson Flint. I did find Elizabeth's obit in the 1979 Alton Telegraph finally!
Debbie Jones Vietzke
Sellersburg, IN
(formerly California)